July 17, 2013 - The Crestwood Board of Aldermen finally came to some agreement on what has so far been a divisive issue, the redevelopment of the city's mall.
"How do we want to see this property five years from now, eight years from now, 10 years from now?" is how Mayor Jeff Schlink phrased the mission of the board's July 9 work session. "What is it we want this property to be used for, and how do we want it to fit into the community?"
The entire board attended the work session, as well as about 50 members of the public and several representatives from Centrum Properties, including Centrum partner Sol Barket, who grew up in St. Louis and is spearheading the Crestwood mall redevelopment.
All the aldermen liked the idea of adding housing to the mall site. The future of Crestwood is not in an entertainment district or retail, suggested board President Tim Trueblood of Ward 2, but instead in meeting the demand of people wanting to move into Crestwood and Lindbergh Schools. The city was named the best place in Missouri to raise children by Bloomberg Businessweek in 2011.
"We're focusing on putting new businesses in this mall area, and I'm not so sure that they're going to be any better-supported than the vacant ones we have now," he said. "That's why I want the housing."
Besides housing, aldermen liked the idea of the creation of a downtown-style area, which is included in the redevelopment plan Centrum brought to the board a year ago. The "District at Crestwood" plans call for an upscale movie theater, a bowling concept and a comedy club to surround a plaza where farmer's markets and similar types of events could be held.
"I could see that area, if properly developed, becoming like a downtown area," Trueblood said, adding that housing would only add to the downtown atmosphere.
Ward 1 Alderman Darryl Wallach said he likes the idea of adding some housing into the District at Crestwood, which could make it more like the Cleveland Flats mixed-use development in Cleveland.
However, he noted, Centrum's current plans already include a downtown area, including a plaza, farmer's market and ice rink.
Trueblood said he supported a development that is 80 percent housing and 20 percent retail, while Wallach and Ward 2 Alderman Mary Stadter said they supported much lower percentages, with Stadter mentioning a mix more along the lines of 50 percent housing and 50 percent entertainment or retail. Houses, which could be condos, town homes or villas, would provide immediate revenue to the city and would not go in or out of favor based on retail trends, Trueblood noted.
"We had a great 55-year run (with retail), we did quite well with it," he said. "(Housing) fits what we're known for now. We're no longer known for the Plaza. We're known as the best place to raise kids."
The board also liked the idea of adding an attraction to capitalize on Crestwood's location on historic Route 66.
"We've got Route 66 right in the middle of our city," Stadter said. "Why not theme something along with that and draw people in that way?"
"There's a lot of history on this piece of concrete out here," agreed Trueblood, who said he has met international visitors coming through the city because they are traveling Route 66.
He suggested a drive-in movie theater could be located at the corner of Sappington and Watson roads, where the grading of the mall is far below Watson Road.
Disagreeing with aldermen who want to see more retail stores in the plans, Ward 4 Alderman Dan Tennessen said he believes the United States is overbuilt with retail, so he prefers the lifestyle and entertainment options in Centrum's current plan. A hotel/water park combined attraction, like Great Wolf Lodge, could bring in people from all over the Midwest who prefer to drive to their vacations, he noted. The closest Great Wolf Lodge is in Kansas City.
The development should be unique and not just full of big-box stores, Trueblood agreed.
"I'm sure that the people that have sunk their millions and millions of dollars into it have it in their best interests to find something that's going to succeed, as well," Stadter noted.
Schlink said he hopes for more retail, citing the successful mixed-use Landing development in Branson, which has a small Bass Pro Shops and other stores, alongside restaurants and housing.
Ward 3 Alderman Bill Boston also got behind residential and retail, noting that Kirkwood and Brentwood have recently benefited from that type of development.
Some residents have expressed concerns that an entertainment district could become too successful, however, he added.
"Are we going to end up like U City Loop or something?" he said. "I don't think this type of neighborhood would want to live in that atmosphere ... That's not my opinion, just people have told me that ..."
Aldermen also discussed what Schlink called "the $34 million question" of whether they supported tax-increment financing, or TIF, and other requested taxing districts to subsidize the $121 million development.
Since so many young families are moving into Crestwood, the effect on the school district comes into play, Schlink said: until the TIF is paid off, the school district would receive little to no benefit from the development.
"Right now, we're generating zero there," Ward 1 Alderman Richard Breeding said. "So when we talk about TIF and the affected taxing districts, you're really only talking about their future, because their current (revenue) is almost nil ... People talk about the risk of a TIF, but the city doesn't hold any real risk with a TIF. They're not our bonds."
None of the aldermen objected to the use of special sales-tax districts — a transportation development district, or TDD, and a community improvement district, or CID — although Ward 3 Alderman Paul Duchild said he personally did not want to pay more than a 10-percent sales tax and thought the issue should go to a referendum if it is considered.
TIF makes sense for this development, Wallach and Stadter agreed, but they were open to how much TIF should be used.
They suggested that the board needs to hire the services of PGAV, the planner it has already rejected twice, to do a cost-benefit analysis of Centrum's plan. Since a TIF agreement would be a contract, the city could write in its own stipulations, Stadter said.
Barket also promised to work with the city on potentially allowing state inspectors to come into the property and check for asbestos or other environmental contaminants.