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Crestwood considers pact with firm for study


February 16, 2005 - By MIKE ANTHONY

Executive Editor

An agreement with a Chicago, Ill.-based firm to conduct a market feasibility study of the Watson Road Commercial District in conjunction with the redevelopment of the Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood is scheduled to be considered next week by the Crestwood Board of Aldermen.

The Board of Aldermen will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 22, at the Government Center, 1 Detjen Drive.

City Administrator Don Greer told the Board of Aldermen last week that two firms — Melaniphy & Associates of Chi-cago, Ill., and Robert Charles Lesser & Co. of Washington, D.C. — responded to the city's request for proposals for the market feasibility study. City staff and Westfield officials interviewed representatives of the two firms Feb. 4 and selected Melaniphy & Associates to perform the study.

The agreement that aldermen will consider Tuesday will include the final project scope and cost of the study, which originally was estimated at $32,000 and will be funded by Westfield.

Aldermen voted in December to approve a preliminary funding agreement with West-field. Under the terms of the preliminary funding agreement, Westfield will ad-vance the city $97,250 to pay for planning studies, reports and legal documents needed to proceed with the mall redevelopment, which, as proposed, would involve such economic development tools as a Chapter 353 corporation to designate the project area as blighted and the creation of a Community Improvement District.

Westfield representatives, including Todd Rogan, development director, attended the Dec. 14 board meeting, but did not provide any specifics of the redevelopment, which city officials have described as a two-phase project.

City officials previously have said they believe the redevelopment will include the construction of a new theater — similar to the 14-screen AMC Megaplex Theatre be-ing constructed at the Westfield Shopping-town Chesterfield — the expansion and relocation of the food court and other en-hancements and improvements.

During a town-hall meeting last week at the Crestwood Community Center that was conducted by the city's Ward 1, Ward 2 and Ward 4 aldermen, Greer elaborated about the redevelopment of the Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood and the need for the market feasibility study.

"We've been talking with Westfield for probably a year to a year-and-a-half with regard to some improvements and enhance-ments to the mall,'' Greer said. "Anybody who goes to the mall sees some deteriorating conditions. The parking lot's falling apart. The parking garage is in horrible shape. The food court is all but abandoned and it's just not some place you want to take your family. So we've been working with them for quite some time to get them to make an investment in the property or to encourage them to make an investment in the property.

"When they come to us with a plan — and the plan is all internal — I can tell you there are three things that they're talking about in what they refer to as phase one,'' he said, noting the proposed improvements include "an enhancement and repair to the parking garage ... Moving the food court up from the lower level to the Dillard's end and then now that AMC Theatres has come out of bankruptcy and reorganized, AMC wants to build a new theater. ...

"Now with regard to anything, future expansion or development of the project, one of the things that we wanted to see done prior to the city or this board considering participating in any kind of redevelopment cost is what's the market look like? What are we competing in? Are we moving the dollar from this side to this side to this side? One of the greatest concerns we have is participating in some redevelopment project that hurts some place else in the city. It doesn't make a lot of sense,'' the city administrator said, citing the need for the market feasibility study.

The market analysis, he continued, will determine what businesses would be the best fit for Crestwood.

"... That's what a market analysis tells us is who else would fit. Who do we not want? What kind of stores, what kind of retail stores do we not want, do we not need in Crestwood because there's already enough alternatives? I mean we have Famous-Barr at the mall and within 250 yards you have Kohl's. Those are direct competitors. Those stores compete with each other ... So when we talk about the market analysis and feasibility study, what we're really trying to do is to get a handle on our future. What we should pursue. What we should look for and also what kinds of stores and developments should we shy away from?

"Well, you hear a lot about TIF districts and TDDs (transportation development districts) and Community Improvement Districts and things like that and these boards have to make a decision as to whether or not these are good things for the city long term, whether there's a good return on that type of investment,'' he said.

If a developer seeks some assistance from the city in a redevelopment project, Greer said, "Before this board can make an informed decision as to whether or not they should participate in that, they need to have a pretty good feel or a really good feel as to whether or not this plan or this development works or has a chance of working in the city of Crestwood.

"If it's putting in one more competing store that does nothing but move that same dollar around, then we really haven't done anything to increase our retail sales. Fifty-one percent of all our money — 51 cents out of every dollar comes from sales tax in Crestwood ...,'' Greer said, noting the market feasibility study will help city officials make the proper choices about redevelopment proposals.

In response to a question about whether the mall would expand beyond its existing boundaries, Greer said he is not aware of any plan Westfield has to expand beyond the mall's current footprint.

The shopping center, Greer later noted, "still represents the lion's share of the sales tax for the city. It is still a formidable force in the area and it still does well. No mall is doing well right now. Ours is off. It's off, but so is West County. So is South County. All malls are doing poorly, especially older, closed malls such as ours. So the question really I believe when we talk with Westfield is what is the future of this property? Are they going to be satisfied with some re-duced sales-producing property or are they going to invest in it? Are they going to change it? Are they going to make it more attractive and that's really what we've been working with them on and talking with them about — not only the immediate, but what are their plans for it? I think it's important for the city to know what their plans are for that, that very significant piece of property.''

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