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Chesterfield Mall: a property in search of a future

By: Jim Erickson

For those who remember Chesterfield Mall when its parking lots, stores and corridors were full of shoppers from miles around, the picture today is much different. In its own way, the current scene is rather sad.

[Jim Erickson photo]
[Jim Erickson photo]

Of the mall’s earlier and recent anchor stores, only Macy’s remains. A large banner proclaiming space available adorns the outside of the Sears location, which closed late last year. Dillard’s said it would reopen after a water main break flooded the operation more than two years ago but that pledge later was rescinded and the retail facility remains shuttered.

Inside, the corridors once lined with bustling specialty shops now serve, as much as anything else, as a track for walkers who prefer to escape the vagaries of the weather outside.

Except for what’s often called the Cheesecake Factory wing due to the restaurant at that mall entrance, other parts of the shopping center have more empty storefronts than ones open for business.

So it’s no great surprise the frequently heard question in Chesterfield these days is, “What’s going to happen to the mall?”

While there’s no clear plan in place yet, the consensus is that something is bound to happen sometime. The overall business site in the southwest quadrant of the I-64/U.S. 40 and Clarkson Road intersection is far too valuable to sit under-utilized or vacant. Or so the reasoning goes.

However, given current conditions, it’s also clear that getting anything to happen soon probably won’t be easy because, in metaphorical terms, there are a number of chefs with their spoons in the broth.

Chesterfield Mall’s ownership includes not one but four different business entities.

Unlike anchor stores in many other malls, the ones at Chesterfield own the facilities they occupy and also control adjacent parking areas and entrances. Macy’s maintains ownership of its location as does Dillard’s even though its store has been closed since September 2016.

As it closed up shop here, Sears sold its location to the Staenberg Group, a local real estate organization specializing in developing, leasing and managing shopping center properties.

The Hull Property Group purchased the remainder of the property last year from C-III Capital Partners, which had become the temporary owner when foreclosure proceedings were completed. Staenberg also had made an offer on that parcel, but Hull, based in Augusta, Georgia, won. 

A high-stakes game of four square

The ownership terms applying to all four entities say each must approve plans calling for changes affecting the property in order for any alterations to move forward.

The city of Chesterfield also has an obvious interest in what happens to the prime piece of real estate in the middle of its jurisdiction. But when a resident asked, at a recent City Council meeting, for the city to do something to rejuvenate the mall, Mayor Bob Nation replied that the property’s ultimate fate is in the hands of the private companies that own it.

The city’s main role will be to review and approve plans for any redevelopment or other major changes to ensure those plans are in keeping with city requirements and its long-term planning goals.

Staenberg Group’s Tim Lowe readily declares the company’s vision for the mall property is a high-end, mixed-use development that includes multi-family residential, office, retail, restaurants, a food hall, theater, health club, supermarket, small “pocket” parks and other possible uses. In short, the parcel would become a place where people could live, work, find restaurants, leisure activities and entertainment all within reasonable walking distance.

At least some city officials have made similar comments about what they foresee.

With Lowe as its spokesman, Staenberg was the only one of the four entities with a direct ownership interest willing to respond to West Newsmagazine’s questions about the mall property’s future.

Hull spokeswoman Coles Hull Doyle said in an email. “… we feel that, because we are in the midst of conversations, it is not the best timing to comment at length on the property and its future. We would like to be a little further along with a more direct plan of action to be able to appropriately answer your questions and give a more accurate reporting of what is next for the property.”

Carolyn Ng Cohen, director of media relations for Macy’s, had a similar response, noting, “We do not have any announcements regarding Macy’s Chesterfield at this time.”

After multiple contacts by phone and email, a spokeswoman in Dillard’s Little Rock, Arkansas, office twice pledged that someone in the company’s real estate office would respond. No one did.

Lowe, however, responded openly and straightforwardly to all questions both in writing and in a subsequent face-to-face interview.

The vice president of leasing and development at Staenberg Group, Lowe said some preliminary long-range redevelopment studies have been created for the mall property, ranging from complete demolition to using portions of the existing mall in a new configuration.

“Most all include the introduction of new uses for the property, including residential and office,” he said.

A complicated process

Addressing the issue of all four ownership entities having to agree on any redevelopment plan, Lowe had a one-word description of the situation: Difficult.

“This will be a complicated and time-consuming process,” Lowe predicted. For openers, Macy’s and Dillard’s each needs to decide if they want to participate in a proposed redevelopment, he said.

“Hull is a little more complicated as they have no experience in a major redevelopment of this magnitude,” Lowe continued. “Hull will need to determine if they want to stay and participate or sell their interest.”

One of the questions West Newsmagazine posed to Hull asked for the company’s views on and experience with multi-use redevelopment projects. The company’s website lists more than 30 mall properties in its retail portfolio, most of them in the Southeast but some elsewhere including Illinois, Indiana, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin.

Several, including the Alton Square Mall in Illinois, are listed as being proposed for redevelopment, although no details were included on those projects.

As of the end of February, Chesterfield Mall was not included in the redevelopment category on the Hull website.

Asked what kind of catalyst is needed for moving forward on the Chesterfield property, Lowe replied quickly, “Finding the right owner.” He left little doubt of his belief that Staenberg Group fits that description.

“Typically, neither Macy’s nor Dillard’s would lead this effort,” he said. “In most cases, the shopping center owner would take the lead but, unfortunately, at this time Hull Property Group has shown no interest in participating in the proposed redevelopment.”

Should Hull decide to exit and sell its stake in the mall, Lowe said Staenberg Group would be willing to discuss acquiring that ownership interest but would make no predictions about the outcome.

Lowe sees no conflict between the redevelopment of the mall and a proposal now moving forward on the nearby Downtown Chesterfield property, also planned as a mixed-use project.

Located on the west side of Chesterfield Parkway West in the southwest quadrant of that roadway’s intersection with I-64/US 40, the 99-acre Downtown Chesterfield parcel has been rezoned as a planned commercial and residential district.

At a recent meeting, the Chesterfield City Council approved the first reading of concept plans for site development, landscaping, signage and lighting fixtures for a 22-acre portion of the property north of Wild Horse Creek Road and east of its intersection with Old Chesterfield Road.

The council also approved the initial reading of a site development section plan, landscape and lighting plans, architectural elevations and a statement of design for a 7.3-acre tract northeast of the Wild Horse Creek-Old Chesterfield Road intersection. Here, a mixed-use building with 173 residential units, 12,500 square feet of community retail and 14,500 square feet of restaurant usage are envisioned.

Second readings and final council action on plans for both parcels were to be scheduled at an upcoming meeting.

“The Downtown Chesterfield property will benefit from the eventual redevelopment of the mall,” Lowe asserted. The proposed mall redevelopment and Downtown Chesterfield will become the new downtown for the city and will be the epicenter of activity, he added.

In a separate and earlier interview, Justin Wyse, Chesterfield’s director of planning and development, agreed with Lowe’s assessment. “The relationship between the mall and [Downtown Chesterfield] has always been envisioned to be supplemental and coordinated for development,” he said.

Although no specific price tag has been placed on redeveloping the mall property, Lowe suggested the project likely “will require many hundreds of millions of dollars.”

The cost of redevelopment

[Jim Erickson photo]

All of which begs the question about what kind of tax or other economic incentives may be requested or needed to make redevelopment a reality.

Lowe is equally blunt in addressing that issue. “The need for tax and other economic incentives will be paramount to the success of the proposed redevelopment,” he said. “Without them, the mall buildings and layout will most likely remain and will serve the low-end users like flea markets, self-storage, flex buildings, etc.”

However, Lowe was careful to qualify his comment. “The tax and other economic incentives will be required to create new infrastructure – streets, parks, new utilities, green space, and so forth – those improvements typically provided by a municipality in a downtown environment.”

Asked about comments from some Chesterfield officials about the city not having much of an appetite for economic incentives, Lowe responded, “Maybe those views are based on what has been talked about so far. You sure don’t need financial assistance if all you are talking about is just a ‘clean up – paint up – move new tenants in’ approach.”

Comments from Chesterfield City Administrator Mike Geisel appeared to take a similar tack.

“Absent any specific proposal right now, it’s hard to say what the reaction would be to any plan involving financial incentives,” he said. “That said, I think the record shows the city has been very judicious in not allowing offsets for what would be considered regular development expenses.”

An example of the city’s approach can be seen in Chesterfield Valley where incentives were involved in levee improvements, the Boone’s Crossing interchange at I-64/US 40 and similar infrastructure projects, Geisel explained.

“But I think the door is closed to participation in putting up new buildings or altering existing ones,” he said. “The mall area is different from the valley because it involves the entire southwest quadrant of a major intersection in the middle of the city. A redevelopment there will require an integrated vision that is almost sure to affect city streets, maybe require new streets and other aspects of important city infrastructure.”

A future for us

One person optimistic about the future of the mall is Cory Lawson, a jewelry artist who owns and manages Stone Soup Galleries, a coalition of regional artists whose work is displayed and sold at a location in the Cheesecake Factory wing. She recently agreed to sign another year’s lease for her business’s space despite being told by Hull Property Group’s local representative that any redevelopment is not likely to come soon due to the challenge of getting everyone with an ownership interest to agree on a plan.

Lawson, who has had differing locations at the mall since 2012, said it’s her understanding that other businesses near hers also have agreed to extend their leases.

“I realize there are no guarantees but I think the businesses in our wing believe there is a future for us here,” she said.

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