The St. Louis County Council’s focus on redevelopment efforts at the old Northwest Plaza site – and its related accusations against County Executive Steve Stenger – are now igniting concerns among St. Ann officials and civic leaders.
St. Ann city administrator Matt Conley was among several who contended that the council’s political fight with Stenger is hurting the city’s efforts to attract businesses to the former shopping center site, which once was a regional magnet for shoppers.
“Why at least some individuals on the Council have chosen to do this, I don’t know,” Conley said. “It’s just unbelievable.”
The council approved a report Tuesday night that questions whether Stenger's acceptance of more than $300,000 in campaign contributions from developers was legal.
At its meeting Tuesday, the council ramped up its attacks against Stenger by approving the report of its Ethics Committee. The council is backing the panel’s call for federal or state law enforcement agencies to investigate whether Stenger broke any laws when he moved some county operations to the site, renamed The Crossings at Northwest.
The key issue is the $365,000 in campaign contributions that Stenger has received from the redevelopers, brothers Robert and P. David Glarner.
Councilman Ernie Trakas, a Republican from Oakville who is on the Ethics Committee, says the arrangement looks bad, whether or not it was legal.
“This relationship of campaign contributions and unprecedented lease terms and conditions create an appearance of impropriety,” Trakas said.
The council also is concerned about reports that the county’s lease at the Northwest site will cost more than the council had initially been led to believe.
Trakas is pushing the Ethics Committee’s recommendation that the council consider cancelling its lease agreements with the developers for the county office space.
Northwest backers speak out
Rebecca Zoll, the president of North County Inc., an economic and community advocacy organization, told the Council that she wasn’t commenting on the political fight.
But, as for the Northwest site, she noted that it had added more than 2,000 jobs to the St. Ann area. “This development has brought so many jobs to our community,” she said. “It took a blighted, delinquent site that no developers were willing to look at before.”
Conley said he feared that the political disputes between Stenger and the Council over the site would dissuade businesses interested in moving in.
“To me, it’s disheartening to hear all the negative things that keep coming up,’’ Conley said.
He pointed to the Menards home improvement store that already has moved in, along with a Charter Communications call center. Save A Lot Corp. is interested in moving its headquarters to the Northwest site, if it obtains some tax incentives.
The Council delayed for another week a bill that would support those incentives, which would amount to more than $4 million. Page said the Council was seeking more information on Save A Lot’s lease.
Conley said that St. Ann officials already had approved the incentives, and was prepared to move forward, with or without the county.
A spokesman for Stenger reaffirmed his earlier comments that he did nothing wrong, and that the Council is playing politics while ignoring the economic stakes.
“The revitalization of Northwest Plaza in terms of $325 million in economic impact and over 2,800 jobs is a source of pride for the Stenger administration,” said Stenger spokesman Cordell Whitlock. “Despite the efforts of certain Council members to stall progress by playing election-year politics, we will continue creating economic opportunities for all St. Louis County residents.”
Stenger, a Democrat, contends that the Northwest dispute is tied to the fact that some Council members are backing his primary opponent, businessman Mark Mantovani, who also has raised questions about the Northwest Plaza redevelopment.
Labor leaders oppose contract-related bill
At the behest of some labor leaders, the Council delayed action on a bill to revamp county procedures for awarding contracts.
Among other things, labor groups contend that the bill would eliminate the prevailing wage in the county, along with apprenticeship programs and federal safety standards.
Gary Elliott, business manager for the Eastern Missouri Laborers, told the council he had read the bill with “disappointed astonishment,’’ and called some of its provisions “borderline irresponsibility.”
Don Willey, business manager for Laborers Local 110, told the Council that the bill could become an issue in the coming elections.
The bill’s sponsor is Councilwoman Colleen Wasinger, a Republican from Huntleigh. She was absent Tuesday.
Council Chairman Sam Page, a Democrat, told the labor leaders that the measure is likely to undergo changes before the Council votes on it.
The Council also postponed final action on a bill to authorize design contracts on two proposed county police stations, because of some last-minute changes. Page emphasized that the Council is committed to approving the stations.
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