December 21, 2005 - The Sunset Hills Tax Increment Finance Commission will consider the Novus Development Co.'s proposed MainStreet at Sunset project in early 2006.
Novus is proposing to construct MainStreet at Sunset, a $165.2 million lifestyle shopping center at Interstate 44, Watson Road and South Lindbergh Boulevard. The Board of Aldermen voted unanimously last week to refer the development back to the city's TIF Commission, which will consider changes made to the proposal after a public hearing conducted last March.
With one city representative absent last April, the TIF Commission voted 6-5 to recommend rejection of Novus' proposal.
However, the Board of Aldermen in May approved Novus' request for $42 million in tax-increment-financing, or TIF, assistance and $20 million in transportation development district, or TDD, reimbursements to help fund the shopping center. The project would raze 254 homes and several businesses in the Sunset Manor subdivision.
Only the Hampton Inn and Denny's restaurant would remain. The Board of Aldermen also authorized the use of eminent domain to acquire those properties Novus does not have under contract.
During a standing-room-only emergency meeting in August, aldermen approved ordinances amending the redevelopment agreement with Novus and authorizing the issuance of $22.5 million in tax-increment financing notes.
Closings on the more than 200 homes were scheduled to begin Aug. 22. But Novus learned Aug. 18 its lender had withdrawn its funding for the development and the closings were delayed until a new lender could be secured. Since then, Novus has continued searching for financing, but has been unable to find a new lender.
Opponents said they have been telling city officials that Novus did not have the necessary financing since the process began.
"This developer doesn't have any money, doesn't have a way to get these deals done,'' said Will Aschinger, spokesman for the Stop the Sunset Hills Land Grab, a citizens' group that opposes the project. "He had promised people he was going to close, even though he didn't have any money. There was never a written commitment for financing. The city didn't do its due diligence to make sure he had the financing set up. The mayor has said so.''
But city officials said very little at the Dec. 13 Board of Aldermen meeting.
"Because of the relationship with the Westfield lawsuit against the city, there will be no public comment tonight,'' Mayor James Hobbs said. "I'd like a reading of the Resolution 280 by (Ward 4) Alderman (Donald) Parker, please.''
Aldermen voted unanimously, without questions or comments, to send the Novus project back to the TIF Commission.
City Attorney Robert C. Jones said the new TIF process could take some time.
"They have 30 days to make appointments, after that the chair needs to call a meeting to see what Novus has to say,'' Jones said. "If someone comes in as a partner for financing then the project could head back to the board. If a new group comes forward, that would require the whole process be done over. This could take a while. The commission will hold at least two meetings.''
Sunset Manor resident Kathy Tripp said the city still has a cloud over residents of her neighborhood. Many homes have fallen into disrepair over the five-year period the area has been targeted for redevelopment. Many residents have delayed or neglected home maintenance and upkeep over that period, she said.
"The city has to step up to the plate and help us rebuild our neighborhood,'' Tripp said. "They have to assure us, as well, that this will never happen again.''
The redevelopment project has sparked several lawsuits, including one filed by 11 city residents that seeks to have the Board of Aldermen consider initiative petitions to repeal two enabling ordinances for the project. If the board fails to repeal the ordinances, the suit seeks a public vote to repeal the enabling ordinances.
St. Louis County Circuit Judge Ellen Siwak recently issued an order rejecting the city's motion to dismiss that suit.
Another lawsuit was filed by city residents and commercial property owners along with Missouri Residential I, an affiliate of Westfield America Inc. The lawsuit contends the city violated the state's TIF statutes and the U.S. and Missouri constitutions in approving the TIF assistance and redevelopment agreement.