Developers of the old Crestwood mall site insist work is being done behind the scenes to redevelop the nearly 50-acre property along Watson Road. But right now, it is still a huge patch of dirt and weeds in the center of the south St. Louis County municipality.
The mall has been closed since 2013 and was demolished in 2016.
Creve Coeur-based Walpert Properties is the third company to come up with a vision for the space. Plans by Centrum Partners and UrbanStreet Group, both based in Chicago, did not materialize.
"Neither of them were able to drag the project across the line," said Walpert Properties partner Kent Evans.
One of those proposals was a roughly $100 million project. Walpert's plan for a retail, shopping, restaurant and living complex is more elaborate — to the tune of $300 million.
"While the project may be three times bigger in cost, it's at least three to four times bigger in scope," Evans said. "So it's not really a matter of it being more expensive or costing more. It's much, much larger than previously envisioned."
The property holds a special spot for many in the region. It was the site of one of the first major shopping malls in the area, first opening in the 1950s. The last significant investment was in the mid-'80s, when malls were especially popular. As time went by, online shopping gained traction, forcing traditional retailers to adjust. The mall was eventually put up for auction and sold in 2014.
City is on board
Now there is another redevelopment plan, and the city is behind it.
“I’d say we are upbeat,” said Crestwood City Administrator Kris Simpson about the status of the project.
He’s especially enthused about the larger proposal by Walpert Properties.
“That’s good news for the city,” Simpson said. “That’s good news for the taxing jurisdictions because that’s more investment, and that’s what we want.”
Simpson said a previous concept by UrbanStreet Group appeared to be similar to developments in Chesterfield Valley, with a large parking lot and big box stores at the far end of the property.
“There’s a time and a place for that, but I don’t think that was the experience that our community would have been excited about or looking for.”
He said Walpert is proposing a project similar to The Streets of St. Charles or The Boulevard in Richmond Heights.
Potential city incentives have not been formally discussed. There were some attached to the plan by UrbanStreet Group that could be transferred, but Simpson is expecting Walpert Properties to ask for changes.
Interest among Crestwood residents
The optimism of the city and developers is being boosted by online reaction. Evans said more than 20,000 people have interacted with a Facebook page about the new Crestwood City Center. A marketing survey about potential condos on the site has garnered more than 500 responses.
He also has key tenants lined up but said he is not revealing them for business competition reasons. Evans points out the days of attracting big-box retailers like Macy's or Home Depot to be anchor tenants appear to be over.
"That just doesn't really exist today. The world of retail has changed," he said, "so anchors will be different.
"There is going to be a mass of restaurants there."
Those eateries will be combined with shops and places to live, with a planned connection to a trail system.
But it's all tentative. There are a lot of pieces to juggle at this point in a huge economic development project.
"It's very complicated, and it's also very interesting," Evans said. "We're basically creating a new city center for Crestwood."
And he's confident that people driving along Watson Road will see shovels in the ground sometime next year.
Correction: A previous version of this story referred to the development as being in West County. Crestwood is part of South County.
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