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Crestwood mayor reports on first six months in office

October 26, 2005 - Crestwood is "cooking'' right now, Mayor Roy Robinson told those attending a town-hall meeting last week that marked his first six months in office.

Robinson, who was elected mayor last April, discussed economic development, finances and a host of other topics during his Oct. 20 town-hall meeting at the Crestwood Community Center.

Regarding economic development, Robinson announced that the Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood will be "significantly changed to benefit'' the city — far beyond plans previously announced by the Westfield Corp. to revitalize the aging shopping center at Watson and Sappington roads.

Furthermore, Robinson also announced that a hotel is proposed to be built in the area of the Sam's Club at Big Bend Boulevard and Interstate 44.

Previously announced plans for the Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood include the construction of a new megaplex AMC Theatre at the front of the shopping center near Watson Road and other improvements at the Dillard's end of the mall.

"... We've met with the Westfield people. They've even brought in the people from Los Angeles who are the bosses of that whole complex. It's owned by somebody in Australia, but Los Angeles is where all these people work ... and they have a commitment to us,'' Robinson said. "I can't — they've already come out with one portion of it, but they have indicated to us they're not going to do just a mere makeover or something. It's going to be — it's going to be significantly changed to benefit this city and we've got their word on that. Sometimes that's all you get is a word, but I plan on holding their feet to the fire to make sure that all that comes about ...''

Regarding the proposed hotel, the mayor said, "... We're negotiating with somebody now also and we're waiting on the signatures with the people who want to build — we're having a hotel built in Crestwood and we've got the guy who wants to build it, and he's willing to pay the money. So we're just waiting for the people who own the property to sign the paperwork. So there's another thing we've got coming. We don't have one. We've got one ...''

Among other economic development projects in the works that were cited by Robinson were a nearly $12 million redevelopment of the southeast corner of Watson and Old Sappington roads and a 120-unit retirement community proposed on part of the Value City property at Wat-son and Grant roads.

"Since I've been in office, I've done exactly what I told you I'd do during the election,'' Robinson said. "I've worked hard. I've pushed the staff hard, and we've got things cooking Crestwood and I'm proud to say that. We have worked together, and I'm going to give (City Administra-tor) Mr. (Don) Greer the credit. Everyone thinks that he and I have a problem. He's a hard head and I'm a hard head and, in fact, I'm his boss so I get my way probably a little more than he does. But we stand up to each other and we talk and we try to get what's best for Crestwood ...''

Efforts to fill the vacant buildings on Watson Road that previously housed Sports Authority and Office Depot also were noted by the mayor. Though the two businesses have moved out of the city, the corporations continue to pay rent to the owner of the property, G.J. Grewe Inc.

"... We put on a letter campaign, trying to influence Sports Authority, Office Depot that we're unhappy with them having their signs up there and renting the building, but nothing to help the city,'' he said. "I don't know who's coming, but we're going to fill those stores. It's coming. You've seen them empty for two years. I told you that sometimes you have to — Gary Grewe was a supporter of mine. But I think the staff and everybody, every time I ran into him, I was hounding him. I believe you've got to do what's best for this community ...''

In response to a question about the vacant buildings that previously housed Sports Authority and Office Depot, Robinson later said, "... They moved out and the corporate people were paying Grewe exactly the same amount of money whether they were empty or whether they were full. So does Gary, is he anxious to run out and do the work that's necessary to bring in new business? I doubt it. He was perfectly happy.

"I said to him: 'You're either going to do it or we're going to find a way to make you do it.' And we did look into it. We looked into ordinances that we could charge them money if they kept them empty. However, the thing that worked the best was sending the letters back to the corporate headquarters and letting them know how they are affecting our community. I wish I knew what was going to go in there, but I'm pleased that we're doing something. I don't want any of these buildings empty.''

Robinson also told residents that the city's financial problems are far worse than he had believed before he was elected.

"... When I came aboard, I thought we had financial problems, but I didn't know to the degree that I do now ...,'' he said.

Robinson later said, "Like I told you before, I quickly learned that our financial status was really, really in bad condition and ... sometimes I say things probably too quickly, but I say: 'I just want a straight answer.' I hear a lot of numbers running around and we have people on the board who are good with what I call numbers. They know — they understand the CPA process and all that, and it's not like I keep my budget at home. But when you have to make a decision, you've got to know where everything is and I have a hard time doing that. I asked the other day at the Ways and Means, I think it was the Ways and Means Committee meeting, I just want the bottom number of what our deficit (is) in all the accounts. And that's general fund, our (parks) and stormwater and the other one is the capital improvements fund.

"I finally got a bottom number. The fi-nance director (Diana Madrid) came back and gave me, I think it's $800,000, almost $900,000, a little less than $900,000 of deficit we have with those three funds. Now ... when you start switching around and talking about what fund owes another fund this amount and another fund owes this amount, it's confusing. You don't know where you are and one fund will, like the parks and stormwater, might show $1.72 million. The general fund will show it's in the positive and the other fund would show it's — I got a deficit. So when you'd ask about it, you would get the answer: 'Well, that's because this fund owes this fund and that fund.' So I finally got a bottom number. All three funds, when you put them together, we are almost $900,000 in debt here.

"Now, with the help of a lot of the citizens, when I went into office the total amount of debt that the city had at that time, long-term debt, was $24 million and I don't think that includes the — I don't think that includes the line of credit we were operating on at the time. In six months, we no longer have a $24 million long-term debt. We have about a $6.7 (million) debt with a — I think we owe about $2 million that was spent before I came. I want to emphasize that ... So somewhere around $10 (million), $11 million. So you see in six months, we have reduced our long-term debt,'' Robinson said.

"That doesn't mean that we are going to be financially stable. We're still — we still have a line of credit that we're working on now and at our next meeting we will try to get it. And it can be very confusing. As of the 31st of this month, we will owe $2 million. Now this is money that's already been spent. We have to mortgage our City Hall — or collateralize our City Hall — and our (Public Works Department) property down on Pardee Lane in order to get the money to keep operating. But the good news is, if we can make it through 2006, and it looks like we should be able to do that with the cuts we've made, we feel that some of the money we've saved in the defeasement will be able to help level the playing field. Now our problem is even if we do that, we're not going to be able to pay off the debt. I mean we'll be able to operate without continually going out to the bank and asking for loans,'' he continued.

"I'm a pay-as-you-go guy. I don't want to see things in debt. I recognize if you really need something for the community, sometimes you have to spend the extra money or go out and borrow the money to get it, but I've tried to stress since I've been in office that we're going to be a pay as you go. We're not going to spend money for what I'd like to have. We're going to spend money for what we absolutely need to provide the services to this community. As I've told the city administrator and other people I've talked to, this city has no other purpose but to provide the services to our community ...,'' Robinson said.

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