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Request for thrift store tabled until feasibility study finished


March 02, 2005 - By MIKE ANTHONY

Executive Editor

A request by the Salvation Army to operate a thrift store at 9283 Watson Road recently was tabled by the Crestwood Board of Aldermen until a market feasibility study of the Watson Road Commercial Dis-trict is completed.

The Board of Aldermen voted 4-3 with one abstention last week to table the Salvation Army's request for a conditional-use permit to operate the store pending the completion of the market feasibility study.

Aldermen voting to table the CUP request were Richard LaBore of Ward 1, Jim Kelleher of Ward 2, Tim Trueblood of Ward 2 and Pat Duwe of Ward 4. Opposed were Alderman Don Maddox of Ward 3, Alderman Jerry Miguel of Ward 3 and Alderman Joe O'Keefe of Ward 4. Ward 1 Alderman Richard Breeding abstained.

The market feasibility study of the Watson Road Com-mercial District is being done in conjunction with the redevelopment of the Westfield Shoppingtown Crest-wood. Melaniphy & Associates of Chicago, Ill., will perform the study at a cost of $32,000, according to an agreement approved by aldermen last week.

Westfield will pay for the study. Aldermen voted in December to approve a preliminary funding agreement with Westfield. Under the terms of the preliminary funding agreement, Westfield will advance the city $97,250 to pay for planning studies, reports and legal documents needed to proceed with the mall redevelopment.

Salvation Army officials are seeking a CUP to operate a 18,828-square-foot thrift store that would be directly adjacent to an Aldi grocery store that is scheduled to open this spring in the shopping center on Watson Road that formerly housed Circuit City. A CUP is required because a second-hand store is a conditionally approved use in a C-1 zoning district.

After a lengthy discussion about the Salvation Army's request for the CUP, Kelleher suggested the board table the matter until the market feasibility study is completed.

During a public hearing in January, the Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously to recommend denial of the Salvation Army's request, citing a lack of economic benefit to the city. Chairman Matt Green was absent. Because purchases at the proposed Salvation Army Family Store and Donation Center would be tax-exempt, no sales-tax revenue would be generated for Crestwood, commission members noted, citing the city's general fund financial problems. But Salvation Army representatives countered that the thrift store still would benefit the city, generating additional foot traffic for nearby businesses and employing roughly 20 area residents.

During a Feb. 22 public hearing before the Board of Aldermen, Capt. Gerhard Scheler, local administrator of the Salvation Army's Adult Rehabilitation Center/Family Thrift Stores, said that the Salvation Army operates seven thrift stores in the St. Louis area. Proceeds from the thrift stores are the sole source of revenue to operate the Adult Rehabilitation Center at 3939 Forest Park Ave. The center offers a free six-month to one-year residential program to help men overcome their addiction to drugs and alcohol, he said.

"We are solely dependent upon the income from our stores and we're looking to get into the Crestview Shopping Center ...,'' Scheler said, noting that the adjacent Aldi store is "looking forward to us coming in there because I believe one of the reasons that the Planning and Zoning Commiss-ion questioned our being there is certainly taxes, but also impact, the negative impact on the community.

"And to be honest with you, I believe that it has a very positive impact on the community for various reasons, one of which is 20 employees that come into that store and we hire those employees from the community, for the most part ...,'' he said, adding that he expected the thrift store would generate 300 customers per day.

Of the treatment the rehabilitation center provides, Scheler said, "It's a great work that we're involved in and we need a few more stores to help support our facility there. So this is a plea really to you, a Board of Aldermen, the mayor, to really reconsider what the Planning and Zoning Commission has recommended because even men from this community need help ...''

He later said, "... Being an officer and an ordained minister in the Salvation Army, it's a plea in the name of Jesus Christ and the Salvation Army to please allow us to put a store here. I think it would be an asset to the community and it certainly would help many, many men, myriads of men, to get back on their feet and go back in their communities and become productive members of society ...''

At one point, Kelleher asked John Brancaglione of Peck-ham, Guyton, Albers & Viets, the city's planning consultant, to comment about the Salvation Army's proposal.

Noting that his comments do not reflect his opinion about the Salvation Army and the good work it does for the community, Brancaglione said, "... As your urban planning consultant, I have to comment in the context of how this would be viewed from the standpoint of my profession. Salvation Army is one of those entities, along with the Goodwill, the New Hope Foundation and I could take you to any other part of the country, there's somebody there who fits or multiple somebodies who fit into this category of not-for-profits who operate second-hand stores to, in effect, support their revenue stream. And then you have what I call the second- or third-tier or in some cases, the fourth-tier retailers, retailers who are in essence dealing in bargain merchandise, close-out merchandise. Those are the Big Lots, the Value Cities, the other entities like that of the world. And again all of those retailers obviously do a business and serve a customer base, but at the same time they also send a signal that also affects an ability within a commercial area to attract other first-tier retailers. In our opinion, based on what we've seen around the country in the municipalities that we represent, the location of these sorts of operations within a commercial district certainly sends a signal as to the image of that district and impacts I think adversely the ability to attract other first-tier tenants ...''

Brancaglione later said, "... Obviously the fact there isn't any sales tax involved certainly is an adverse impact. When you have a prime commercial area you have a limited amount of space in that prime commercial area so the obvious goal is to attempt to attract as much sales tax revenue from that territory as possible ....''

Noting that the prospects for the shopping center at this point are not very good, Maddox asked, "Is it better to have a vacant storefront or a storefront that has a tenant that is drawing customers to the area?''

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