Who lost the Menards store in O'Fallon? A city councilman who met with developers said it wasn't the city.
Councilman John Haman Jr., Ward 3, said earlier this month he was told emphatically by the property owner and developers that the city was not to blame for Menards deciding to cancel plans for a 220,000-square-foot home improvement store just off Highway N near Sommers Road.
“I asked them specifically what does O'Fallon have to do to not make this happen again,” Haman told the council during its Dec. 13 meeting. “I was told there was nothing O'Fallon did to make this deal fall through.”
O'Fallon officials canceled a Dec. 6 public hearing before the city Planning and Zoning Commission after requests for rezoning and a conditional-use permit were withdrawn. The company cited President Barack Obama as a prime factor in its decision to pull back on expansion plans.
"I'm very sorry, but we are a family owned business and with the Obama Administration scaring the dickens out of all small businesses in the USA at present, we have decided not to risk expansion until things are more settled," according to a statement from the company.
The statement did not elaborate, but company spokesman Jim Abbott said the Menards store already under construction in St. Peters still is scheduled to open next spring.
The Eau Claire, Wis.-based company has 271 Menards in 14 Midwestern states, but the St. Peters and O'Fallon stores were the first planned in St. Charles County. Menards also are being built in Manchester and O'Fallon, Ill.
Haman was responding during the council meeting to A.C. Dienoff, a community activist who blamed the city for Menards' decision to pull out.
“I think we, the city, sent the wrong message to a strong, successful corporation,” Dienoff said during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Dienoff claimed said the city did not answer questions posed by the developer in a timely manner and that Menards appears to be going elsewhere.
“I blame the mayor (Bill Hennessy) for a lack of leadership and the city administrator (Keith Riesberg) for a lack of planning and foresight," Dienoff said. From now on, he said, the city should handle corporations “with kid gloves” when they knock on the city's doors.
Haman said he also was frustrated by the company's decision. Officials had expected the store to become a a major sources of sales tax revenue, provide jobs and be a catylst for other growth in the area.
Haman said he didn't like the decision but was told that the company was restructuring and not sure what the economy holds for it. Plans for other Menards stores where ground hasn't been broken also were called off, he said.
“Menards representatives had nothing but wonderful things to say about the city of O'Fallon and the city staff that worked with them,” he said.
The loss of the store not only affects O'Fallon but neighboring Lake Saint Louis. The store was proposed on land in O'Fallon, but a corner of the site where a parking lot was planned is in Lake Saint Louis, along with 16 acres of outlying land. Lake Saint Louis voters on April 3 approved involuntary annexation of the outlying property.
In March, the O'Fallon City Council and Lake Saint Louis Board of Aldermen discussed the possibility of sharing sales tax revenue from Menards and stores that might have been built on the outlying lots. Officials from both cities met to develop a road maintenance agreement and coordinate site plan development of the area.
Lake Saint Louis City Administrator Paul Markworth said officials hoped that the combination of Menards and the final extension of Highway 364 (Page Avenue) would spur development on those 16 acres and other property in the area. The Missouri Department of Transportation plans to begin construction next spring for phase three of Highway 364, which will end at the interchange of Highway N and Interstate 64.
Markworth said the work on the Menards project hasn't been a major expense for either city, other than staff time.