The city of Wildwood is growing, but the where and how is creating discussion among city staff, councilmembers and residents alike.
At a meeting last month, the Wildwood City Council discussed a motion to prepare legislation that would create a standalone department for economic development. The creation of the separate department, by municipal code, would include establishing its own budget so that expenditures can be tracked separately. The city’s Economic Development Committee previously motioned to move the item forward to the council with a 4-3 vote.
Economic development was added to the city’s Master Plan in 2016. The creation of the existing committee led to the development of the city’s Economic Development Guide and the hiring of a full-time economic development director. However, the current economic development program is a component of the department of administration and finance and is included in that department’s budget.
The motion discussed last month ultimately was split into two items: the separation of the committee’s costs into a ledger for better transparency, and the creation of a separate economic development department. The council voted in favor of the first item but voted 11-4 against the creation of an economic development department. Councilmember Joe Garritano [Ward 8] was absent for the vote.
While decisions of how to handle economic development in Wildwood are sometimes divided, the economic development committee is continuing to examine economic development options, particularly within the Town Center area in Ward 8.
“We want to make sure we obtain and retain businesses that are going to stay within the city of Wildwood,” said Councilmember Katie Dodwell [Ward 4], who also serves as the economic development committee chair.
According to a Sept. 25 memorandum by Economic Development Director Julian Jacquin, the economic development committee has conducted over 170 visitation meetings with existing businesses while also working with entities like the Wildwood Business Association and West St. Louis County Chamber of Commerce.
Jacquin said Wildwood’s economic development plan has three parts: business retention, business expansion, and business recruitment or attraction.
“It’s kind of an order of priority, starting with the businesses you have – helping the businesses you already have to succeed, helping them grow where appropriate – and then helping recruit new businesses to the city as well. I think the other side is trying to recruit more of the professional, office-type users that will fill available office spaces in town but are also here during the day from the typical 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and help contribute to the local economy as more of a business user than anything else,” Jacquin said.
Five existing Wildwood businesses have relocated and expanded since August 2016, or plan to do so. In 2018, businesses that have already successfully relocated include CrossFit Wildwood into the previously vacant Dau Furniture building [March 2018] and Subway at 2430 Taylor Road [June 2018] from its former location within Village Plaza.
Also, since October 2016, approximately 20 new businesses have opened or expect to open in Wildwood, creating about 105 new full-time jobs and 22 part-time jobs.
“Through our economic development, I think we’ve gotten our landowners, our property owners and the businesses to communicate a little bit more openly with each other,” Dodwell said. “I’m in my second year as chair of the committee, and after my first year, I had phone calls and emails from several different businesses just saying, ‘Thank you for providing us with a single resource, so we don’t have to go from person to person within the city to try and find answers.’”
According to Jacquin, the of city’s goals with business recruitment and retention are “… more service-oriented [operations], including restaurants, boutique shops and businesses that provide a certain service to Wildwood.”
As of 2018, the list of new businesses and their open dates includes:
- Edward Jones: Jason Huntley, 16750 Main St., February 2018
- The Color Bar: Going Glam Cosmetics, 174 Plaza Drive, February 2018
- AdvantaClean of West County, located at 17384 Manchester Road, May 2018
- Stonecrest of Wildwood, 251 Plaza Drive, May 2018
- Salon Bellissimo [at Stonecrest], 237 Plaza Drive, June 2018
- Dollar Tree, 16552 Manchester Road, July 2018
- Aegis Therapies [at Stonecrest], 231 Plaza Drive, July 2018
- Premier Business Advantage, 16759 Main St., August 2018
- Media Center [at Stonecrest], 251 Plaza Drive, August 2018
Nine businesses also recently have renovated facilities within Wildwood, including the Village Plaza Shopping Center, the Pure by Jen boutique located in Town Center, the former dance studio located at 2612 East Ave., the Pond Inn & Hall off Manchester Road, the Wildwood Family YMCA, Schnucks Markets, the New Community Church off Manchester Road, Directory Publishing Solutions [DPS Media] off State Route 109 and the La Salle Retreat Center located off Rue de La Salle Drive.
“Obviously, the city can’t run somebody’s personal business, but if there are additional resources that we might be able to bring to bear to help ease their implementation or the growth of their business, we certainly want to be in the position to do that,” Dodwell said.
Multiple other developments tentatively are planning to open inside the city limits before the end of 2018. According to Jacquin, many of those are not being built from the ground up but are instead filling vacancies.
“More often than not, our primary effort is attracting businesses to fill the existing spaces that we already have,” Jacquin said. “I think when my position was created [in 2016], people went around town and they noticed several available spaces that weren’t being filled. I think that usually is one of the first few items people mention, filling those available retail spaces before even considering building anything new.”
Since 2016, the number of vacancies in the city has declined.
In mid-2016, the total vacancy rate for shopping centers in Wildwood was about 19.4 percent, which equates to about 70,000 square feet of vacancy out of about 363,000 square feet of overall space.
As of October 2018, Jacquin said the total vacancy dropped to about 30,000 square feet, which caused the vacancy rate to decline to about 10.27 percent.
“In those two years, we went from a vacancy rate of almost 20 percent down to a vacancy rate of almost 10 percent,” Jacquin said.
One development currently working to fill a vacancy is The Miller Haus, under construction at 2612 East Ave. in Ward 8. The building will house a dog-friendly coffee shop, lounge and coworking space that also will host pet adoptions and rescue events. The facility has sat vacant for four years and previously served as the home of Wildwood Dance and Arts.
According to Jacquin, owner Ande Miller received all paperwork from the city of Wildwood earlier in 2018 and is currently awaiting a few more permits from St. Louis County. The business plans to open its doors before the end of the year.
“People are very excited, who live in the neighborhoods around it, that they will have someplace where they can walk to get a quick bite,” Dodwell said.
Also in Ward 8, Clinical Bioenergy Services has opened at 16759 Main St. The office is on the building’s second floor, above the Table Three restaurant located at 16765 Main Street. According to Jacquin, the move-in date was Nov. 1.
Another development coming to the city is Code Ninjas, a new franchise opening in the former Lindenwood University extension campus at 16747 Main Street. The business offers coding classes for kids to teach video game development alongside other math and technology skills. According to Jacquin, two franchise owners signed a lease in mid-October.
“Hopefully, they’ll be open or built out before the end of the year,” he said.
Premier Martial Arts will be moving to 2418 Taylor Road, between Bentley’s Pet Stuff and RE/MAX One. The location was previously the site Wines of Wildwood before its closure.
In the former Big Bear Grill, located at 16524 Manchester Road, will be Craft, a new restaurant from the owners 1356 Public House, located at 1356 Big Bend Road in Twin Oaks. Big Bear Grill has sat vacant since the restaurant’s closure in October 2017. Craft is expected to open in December.
“[The owner] wants to make it an expanded patio, updated patio with about 35 craft beers on tap,” Jacquin said.
At an Oct. 22 council meeting, the city conducted a public hearing on a development known as “The Prime.”
The apartments would be located along 16700 Main St. in the city’s Town Center area. The lot is currently vacant and located immediately east of the Wildwood B&B movie theater. The structure would be a four-story, mixed-use complex and consist of two interconnected buildings. The development would occupy about two acres out of the 5.3-acre space.
The first floor would be dedicated to commercial use, including retail stores and a restaurant facility, with the three stories above housing an estimated 48 residential units. The commercial spaces would be located beneath a canopy on the first floor and would be open to the public.
The proposal also includes 100 parking spaces in the rear, a restaurant with outdoor seating area, a private courtyard, a rooftop terrace, a bio-retention area, an accessible breezeway, a multi-use trail and land dedicated for the east half of a new section of Eastgate Avenue.
The proposal received a favorable recommendation from the Planning & Zoning Commission at its Oct. 1 meeting. A public hearing on the development was held by the commission on Aug. 20.
While the apartments originally were to be targeted to a senior audience, Joe Vujnich, director of planning and parks, said that, following conversations with P&Z, it was determined the apartments would be open to tenants of any age group willing to pay the specified rates and agree to any and all conditions attached to the living area.
The council voted unanimously on Oct. 22 to prepare legislation for the development for a future meeting.
“I think this is an encouraging project,” Councilmember Tammy Shea [Ward 3] said at the Oct. 22 meeting. “I think it hits all the marks of new urbanism…”While some businesses coming to the city are completely new, other openings are expansions of already existing businesses.
Cherry Hills Family Eyecare, currently located at 16978 Manchester Road will relocate into a larger space at 16508 Manchester Road in December 2018. That location is the former St. Louis Bread Co. site in the Schnucks Wildwood Crossing area.
The filling of vacancies mostly in and around Town Center is not an accident. According to Dodwell, it is part of the committee’s process and emphasis on intentional development in specific areas.
“We, as a city, know that we don’t want to put huge, big-box stores into our Town Center,” Dodwell said. “We don’t want to have pockets of retail and or office space throughout the city … We’re not looking to be St. Charles. We’re not looking to be O’Fallon. We still want to be able to have the open country [and] the parks and recreational types of activities that everybody moved to Wildwood for, but we also want to be able to give resources to our residents in the area.”