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Crestwood looking to work with businesses, city administrator says

Acknowledging that Crestwood in the past has had a reputation in the business community of being difficult to deal with, City Administrator Don Greer said that a significant effort is under way to change that perception.

Greer's comments came last week during the fourth of a series of interactive seminars city officials conducted to begin a dialogue with residents and business owners about redevelopment.

"... One of the things that I think you'll see that is changing in the city of Crestwood is the method in which we deal with — hopefully you'll see a positive influence in the manner in which we do work with our businesses,'' Greer said during the Jan. 20 seminar at City Hall that was attended by nearly 60 people.

"We have, I think, suffered somewhat of a reputation in the past of being a little difficult to deal with ... We are making a significant effort to try and make some changes in the manner in which we approach everything from code enforcement to inspections and things like that that relate to processing applications ...,'' he said.

Though the Board of Aldermen had voted in September to place a moratorium on aggressive redevelopment and conduct the seminars on redevelopment, the board's action did not preclude a property owner from approaching city officials with a redevelopment proposal, according to the city administrator.

"Redevelopment is not always just about bringing in some new business. At the last board meeting in fact, Tuesday night (Jan. 13), we had Gary Grewe, who is the principal property owner for Watson Plaza, next to the Kohl's here. He came to the board and made a presentation about a redevelopment proposal that he wanted to move forward, and the board responded to that request by authorizing me to issue a request for proposals to see what kind of a project that he actually wanted to put together or if anyone else wanted to put a project together,'' Greer said.

In response to Grewe's Jan. 13 request, the city has issued a 30-day request for proposals to redevelop Watson Plaza.

While the first three redevelopment seminars were geared toward residents, the fourth seminar was targeted toward the Crestwood business community.

"Part of what we wanted to talk about tonight was the position of the city with regard to the different types of economic development tools that are available,'' Greer said. "We want to give you a little background about the city's financial makeup — why property taxes are so low in the city of Crestwood, why we rely on sales tax (and) why those are always an emphasis for us when we're taking a look at any redevelopment proposals or anything that anyone wants to do.

"... I see a couple people I know who aren't necessarily business owners, but for those of you who own businesses, we wanted to make sure that you were aware that many of these economic development tools are available to you also. It's not just to bring someone else in,'' the city administrator said. "If you've got maybe a plan of something that you'd like to do, we would encourage you again to contact us and let us know what you want to do and let's see if we can't work with you to try to help you out through some of these things if it fits. Again, that's where we're still a little difficult. It's got to fit. It has to work. There has to be some kind of a return and a cooperative investment in what it is that we're trying to accomplish here.''

In July 2002, a technical memorandum prepared by the city's planning consultant, Peckham, Guyton, Albers & Viets Inc., identified five potential redevelopment areas in the city, primarily along Watson Road, including the southeast corner of Old Sappington and Watson roads.

A man who identified himself as one of the owners of property at Old Sappington and Watson, asked why that site had been identified as potential redevelopment area, noting it has had continuous occupancy for 43 years.

"Why would somebody place a cloud, OK, above those properties and give certain trepidation to business owners by some speculative plan conceived a few years ago,'' he said, noting he has received many calls from existing tenants who are concerned about the designation of the area as a potential redevelopment site.

"And what happens to a business owner when they see that they say: 'Why would I extend my lease any longer than I have to ... I'm going to lose my location at some point.' That's a very damaging thing to have floating around the community. I understand the need Crestwood has to generate sales tax, but why identify that property?'' the property owner asked.

Assistant to the City Administrator Matt Conley replied, "Well, that property specifically was identified for a number of reasons. One, the gentleman who owns the property directly behind Old Sappington has indicated that he wanted to sell his property.''

The man said, "I understand that. It may have been sold, but that's property that's residential, south currently of that property. It's residential. It's got nothing to do with the commercial property.''

Conley said, "It was identified based on the fact that that property at some point in the future may be redeveloped ...''

Greer also suggested having tenants call City Hall so he could confirm no plan is being considered to redevelop that corner.

"... I would suggest that perhaps you have them give us a call here at City Hall so we can confirm that the fact that there is no, there is no current plan to redevelop that corner. Nothing's been presented ...,'' Greer said.

The man interjected, "I appreciate that suggestion. I appreciate the suggestion.''

Noting that he would be happy to provide the man with a copy of the technical memorandum, Greer said, "It's not the intention of the city to destroy existing business and if, in fact, that is what you're dealing with, then I would encourage you to have them or have somebody give us a call and we can walk through exactly what it is that we've looked at or what we've considered and then confirm that there is nothing out there.''

Near the end of the seminar, Greer said, "We are working to try and improve everything we do. I started off saying tonight we have a reputation of not being all that easy to get along with. We're trying to change that. We've got a terrific board, very strong and very committed to doing the right thing ...

"They debate issues. They ask questions so that they are enormously informed when they do make a decision and that's their commitment ... We are making an effort to try to improve how the city of Crestwood relates to its business community. I live in Crestwood, too ...,'' he added.

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