Residents of Town & Country overwhelmingly supported plans for its new Town Square, along Clayton Road, adjacent to Mason Woods Village.
At its groundbreaking in December 2017, city leaders forecasted an August 2018 opening. But August has come and gone, and Town Square is nowhere close to opening. Its initial budget – $5.2 million plus the cost of the land acquisition – also is a thing of the past.
The city purchased the 8.8-acre property for $2.2 million, with an $810,000 purchase and sales agreement of 2.36 acres to Bob Brinkmann, founder and CEO of Chesterfield-based Brinkmann Holdings, LLC, for commercial development. The reciprocal easement agreement provides a cross-access easement that allows Brinkmann and the city to share certain uses and expenses related to the site, including some maintenance responsibilities.
Brinkmann, who was hired as the project developer, has constructed a 12,000-square-foot building and adjoining parking lot that the company will operate, lease and maintain as retail space. While there is space for six or seven tenants, only Clementine’s Naughty & Nice Creamery had entered into a tenancy agreement as of presstime.
In addition to retail space, Town Square will have a plaza area for activities, such as Fire & Ice, Taste of Town & Country, the Fall Festival and the city’s Farmers Market. In addition to a covered pavilion area, the gathering place will feature a walking trail through Wirth’s Grove, named to honor the property’s former owners, and connect, via a tunnel under Clayton Road, to the city’s existing multi-use trail on the thoroughfare’s northside. A highlight of the space will be a 200-foot babbling brook and waterfall with interactive features.
City Administrator Bob Shelton said the access tunnel will allow students from The Principia and other users, to “ride their bikes to enjoy the park without having to cross heavy traffic.”
In 1890, the Wirth family erected a blacksmith shop on the site of the new Town Square. Later, the property became the site of a gas and service station, also under the Wirth name, which remained in operation until 2002. In 2014, Hank and Dorothy Wirth sold the property to the city of Town & Country for its future Town Square.
But while the Town Square architectural design will embrace the blacksmith era, the city is sparing no expense to make it a high-end and modern gathering spot. As a result, the project’s cost has increased.
With concept and agreement development changes and unexpected construction, including upgrades and enhancements, the project’s current cost is $8.7 million, approximately $1.5 million over budget. That number is of concern to Alderman Lindsey Butler [Ward 2], who said she ran for election in April 2016 to be a voice of the residents regarding this project.
“There are three neighborhoods, including my own, plus a church that is impacted by this project,” Butler explained. “There are commercial buildings that you may not like the look of, but you are not directly affected by [them]. But with something called a Town Square, the events [the city holds] could impact residents’ everyday lives.”
Butler said of her constituents, “Brinkmann’s proposal was overwhelmingly preferred, 99-percent, over the other contractor’s proposal.” The survey indicated the proposed project would cost taxpayers $3.4 million, which did not include land acquisition. When Brinkmann was selected as the developer, the project was contracted at $5.2 million.
Butler has several concerns. Namely, she believes Brinkmann underpaid for the 2-acre property. She explained that the city prepared the pad where the brick-and-mortar building sits, and the city paid for the property’s stormwater improvements, parking lot and surrounding green space. She asserted that the city also has “paid him to construct all of [Town Square].”
“This is a really sweet deal for the developer,” Butler said.
Butler also is concerned about the overall cost, including the number of change orders approved by the city. Since adopting the original Town Square plan in 2017, city officials have approved 10 change orders related to its construction.
In December 2017, Change Order No. 1 for a second set of Town Square restrooms at a cost of $196,294 was approved. In February 2017, Change Order No. 2 authorized $199,937 was approved for landscape modifications with honeysuckle mitigation, refinement of concrete finishes, clarification of sidewalk location for trail access at Compass Rose, and a mathematical error in landscaping cost calculation. On Aug. 27, 2018, Change Order No. 8 for upgrades to the site’s service facility, restrooms and pavilion was approved at a cost of $431,105. When that bill was introduced, on July 23, city staff explained that they wanted the same amenities, fixtures and finishes in the Town Square restrooms as those already in existence at Longview Farm Park. Change Order No. 9 approved on Sept. 10 in the amount of $167,186 calls for the installation of additional electrical conduit, modifications to the 200-foot babbling brook feature and changes to the site plan relating to the plaza’s geometry.
In all, the change orders have increased the Town Square budget by $1.24 million. However, additions have not been the only changes. Butler explained that as the development moved forward, a second pavilion area, a fireplace in the pavilion and one trail were eliminated in the final plans.
“We’ve taken out a lot of stuff, yet the price keeps going up,” she said. “As the change orders were presented, I started getting uncomfortable. Why isn’t the money available within the budget provided?”
When questioning whether certain costs, such as whether asbestos abatement or soil remediation should be monetarily covered as part of the original contract, Butler has been advised to “leave it to the experts.”
When asked about the additional costs, Shelton said the city is not concerned.
“The budget is set at $5.2 million for design and build, but the board of aldermen anticipated upgrades as the project unfolded,” he explained.
In March 2018, Alderman Skip Mange [Ward 1], co-chairman of the Town Square Task Force, told West Newsmagazine that the city was paying for the project out of cash in the bank while maintaining a balanced general fund budget and retaining more extra funds than required for an emergency reserve.
Shelton told West Newsmagazine in a recent interview that even though the project has gone over budget, there is still ample reserve, with the monies withdrawn from the capital improvement fund. The 2019 budget, he said, will balance the funds moving forward. He added that the city anticipates Town Square will be complete by late fall or early winter.