St. Louis County’s effort to redevelop the shuttered Jamestown Mall has hit a snag.
The north St. Louis County mall has been closed for several years. The first step toward redeveloping the structure is classifying the mall as blighted, which allows the county to use eminent domain. (You can read more about the redevelopment effort here.)
But there’s sharp disagreement over who should have oversight over the project. St. Louis County Councilwoman Rochelle Walton Gray wants the St. Louis County Council to oversee the redevelopment efforts.
Council members held off on approving Walton Gray’s legislation that places oversight authority with the Council. Councilman Ernie Trakas, D-St. Louis County, asked Walton Gray to not vote on the bill in light of legal opinions that question whether the proposal will stand in court.
In an interview with reporters after the council meeting, Walton Gray, D-Blackjack, said that her approach would allow for more constituent input.
“What if it happened in your district, such as Chesterfield Mall?” Walton Gray said. “Wouldn’t you want to have some input into what happened to that mall based upon your constituents and what they tell you they want to see happen? You can’t please everyone. You can’t do what everyone wants to see with the mall. But you can prevent things that they really don’t want to see happen to the mall.”
St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, though, that Walton Gray’s bill would run afoul of state law, adding that the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority of St. Louis County is proper agency to oversee the project. Stenger said he wasn’t sure if he’d veto Walton Gray’s legislation if it ends up passing.
“It’s not so much that bill is unacceptable to me,” Stenger said. “The bill is unlawful in that it attempts to take development rights from the Land Clearance Authority and place it essentially with her. And state law is very clear that the LCRA owns the property. The LCRA has the right to exercise those development rights pursuant to the state statute that set up the LCRA.”
In some ways, the Walton Gray-Stenger skirmish over the mall is an example of how the Council is no longer outwardly friendly to the county executive. But it’s not absolute in this instance: Some of Walton Gray’s colleagues that are not seen as Stenger allies, such Councilman Mark Harder, R-Ballwin, and Councilwoman Colleen Wasinger, R-Huntleigh, voted against an amendment to give the Council oversight over the project.
In perhaps a sign of political acrimony, the Post-Dispatch reported that Stenger used his campaign funds to pay for robocalls calling on Walton Gray to support legislation that kept the LCRA in charge of the project’s oversight. That wasn’t well taken by Walton Gray, who called the calls “unprecedented” and “pretty disrespectful.”
“It’s disheartening,” Walton Gray said.
Stenger said he hoped that he could establish a good relationship with Walton Gray, who unseated his longtime council ally Mike O’Mara last year. He also struck an optimistic tone that the legislative impasse could be resolved.
“We’ve made great progress and we were having great momentum toward that ultimate goal of returning the [mall] to productive use,” Stenger said. “And then, we started dealing with this… delay right now that we’re experiencing. We just need to get past the delay. We need to move the project forward. The people of the district are demanding it and that’s what they want to see. And I understand why. I don’t know if you’ve traveled up there to see this property, but it’s a dangerous property. It’s unsightly. And it should be removed and returned to productive use.”