Subscribe for 99 cents
Mall walkers at the old Crestwood Court

Crestwood Court is a ghost of its former self as mall walkers enjoy their final strolls on July 9, 2013, the day before the shopping mall closed for good. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com

Crestwood Plaza, “where the big stores are,” as the long-ago ad slogan proclaimed, shriveled up and became Crestwood Court, where no stores are.

The million-square-foot enclosed mall went dark in 2013 when the last store — a LensCrafters — closed.

UrbanStreet Group, of Chicago, paid $3,635,000 for the dead mall in an online auction last April and has since worked on plans to reanimate its corpse.

So far, UrbanStreet has devised a plan that includes a variety of uses for the 47-acre tract in Crestwood. And so far, no definite project is about to begin. That doesn’t mean Bob Burk, UrbanStreet’s managing partner, isn’t trying.

Multifamily rentals, a movie theater and other entertainment venues, stores and offices are what he has in mind for the property. The site’s large size in a solid suburban area could lead to an “impactful” redevelopment that appealed to UrbanStreet, Burk added.

“It was an opportunity that just doesn’t come along that often,” he said.

UrbanStreet plans to tear down the entire mall and start fresh. Burk said the company hopes to begin demolition this year.

“The mall itself is just too antiquated,” he said. “There’s nothing to adapt and reuse. There’s an enormous challenge there — No. 1, the behemoth of the building.”

Another challenge is the site itself, which slopes down from west to east. Burk said parts of the site must be raised, producing “undulations” that, designed properly, would make the site’s diverse uses more distinctive.

Crestwood Plaza opened in 1957 as a half-million-square-foot outdoor mall built by Milton and Lewis Zorensky. Sears was the first anchor, followed a year later by a Scruggs, Vandervoort & Barney department store. The shopping center was a big success. Santa — arriving by helicopter, no less — would open the holiday shopping season.

Within a dozen years, Crestwood sprouted suburban outposts of downtown stalwarts Stix, Baer & Fuller and Famous-Barr, which bought the Vandervoort store.

By 1984, the store count had grown to 140 in an expansion that produced an enclosed mall, a 40,000-square-foot food court and a brash new name: Crestwood Plaza — The Ultra Mall.

But the area’s other malls did more than more than stand by and watch. West County and South County centers expanded. The upscale Galleria, in Richmond Heights, replaced Westroads shopping center. Chesterfield Mall and Plaza Frontenac grew.

Unlike Crestwood, the other malls have highway locations. When it opened, Crestwood was on Route 66. By the early 1970s, Interstate 44 had replaced the Mother Road in Missouri, and the mall’s address became merely Watson Road. Later, open-air shopping centers built near I-44 in Sunset Hills, Fenton and Kirkwood sapped more life out of Crestwood.

UrbanStreet took over Crestwood from Chicago-based Centrum Partners, which acquired the struggling mall in 2008 for about $17.5 million. As tenants left, Centrum sought to tear down most of the mall and convert the site to new retail and entertainment uses.

Centrum and co-owner Angelo, Gordon & Co., a hedge fund, said they sank $20 million, including the purchase price, into the property to prep it for a $124 million redevelopment. Instead, they sold the mall they renamed Crestwood Court after the city refused to approve $34 million in tax-increment financing and new sales taxes for the planned revival.

Some Crestwood residents and officials had voiced concern that new tenants would hurt other area businesses. Foes also objected to the size of the public subsidy sought.

Timothy Anderson, a newly elected alderman who campaigned on the need for a viable mall-site redevelopment plan, said last week he is “cautiously optimistic” UrbanStreet will do “something that is a real plus for the city.”

Anderson, a lawyer, said he expects UrbanStreet will seek a TIF to help fund its redevelopment plan. A mixed-use project could make sense but would likely require a retail component that would produce sales tax revenue needed to pay off TIF bonds, he said.

Yes, indeed, UrbanStreet will seek a TIF and strive to provide a mix of developments to provide tax revenue to retire TIF bonds, Burk said. But bringing back the property as strictly a mall is impracticable, he added.

The mall’s decline can be measured by the sales tax receipts it produced for the city of Crestwood. In 2002, the mall provided the city $1.7 million in sales taxes. In 2006, receipts totaled $1.1 million. Dillard’s, which had purchased Stix, closed its Crestwood store in 2007 and Macy’s, which had acquired Famous, left in 2009. The mall’s 2011 sales taxes were about $300,000, almost all from Sears. Then Sears departed.

Reviving a suburban mall site is a new venture for UrbanStreet, which focuses on residential projects in Chicago. It came to St. Louis in 2012 when it bought most of the downtown buildings owned by businessmen brothers Mike and Steve Roberts. The buildings include the residential Roberts Tower (now the Tower at OPOP), the Orpheum Theater and five buildings in the 900 block of Locust Street.

Burk said his company is cooperating with Crestwood officials to make UrbanStreet’s first big suburban redevelopment a success. “We’ve been working with the city, and our hope is to really continue that,” he said.

Business Briefing from St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Make it your business. Get twice-daily updates on what the St. Louis business community is talking about.

I understand that registration constitutes agreement to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

Tim Bryant is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.