CLAYTON — There’s still no word on what will become of the two Wellston industrial parks a St. Louis County board sold to a group of politically-connected investors — a group that included a man who features prominently in the federal indictment of former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger.
The St. Louis County Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority on Wednesday rejected the latest development proposal from Wellston Holdings LLC, the firm that included local businessman John Rallo.
Along with partner Corey Christanell, Rallo donated about $50,000 to Stenger’s campaign account, and federal prosecutors say Stenger directed former St. Louis Economic Development Partnership CEO Sheila Sweeney to make sure Rallo and his group were able to purchase the Wellston properties. The Partnership provides staff to the LCRA.
Connections to sweet land deals and fledgling marijuana business appear to attract attention of the feds.
After meeting for about 30 minutes in closed session, Partnership interim CEO Rodney Crim declined to discuss the contents of the proposal. But LCRA board chair Chris Becker gave the Post-Dispatch a written statement: “Today the LCRA board voted to reject a second development proposal from Wellston Holdings because it does not conform to the covenants and requirements as set forth in the purchase agreement of Aug. 17, 2017.”
In November, the group proposed selling one of the industrial parks — both former factory sites that the county spent years and millions of dollars to clean and prepare for development — to a used car auction company. The LCRA rejected it in December because it would have created far fewer jobs than Wellston Holdings had originally proposed.
Wellston Mayor Nathaniel Griffin supported that proposal. He attended a county LCRA meeting last month to observe, he said then. He couldn’t be reached Wednesday.
A St. Louis County Economic Development Agency had sold 28 acres in Wellston that it had prepped for development to investors who wanted to flip it for a car lot.
In March, Christanell was marketing the property as “Wellston Canna Park.” He and Rallo had been involved in one of the medical marijuana ballot initiatives in November; voters approved a competing measure. The Partnership told the Post-Dispatch at the end of March that that proposal did “not conform to the covenants and requirements as set forth in the purchase agreement.”
The latest proposal was revised in April, a Partnership spokeswoman said.
St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger had denied any involvement in the sale of land owned by a county development arm to his campaign donors.
Representatives from Wellston Holdings weren’t present Wednesday, but attorney Gerard “Jerry” Carmody was on the phone with one of his firm’s other attorneys. Carmody’s firm has worked extensively with St. Louis’ LCRA on real estate matters, particularly the site preparation for the western headquarters of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. The county LCRA inked a $20,000 contract with his firm between late March and mid-April, according to meeting minutes.
Wellston Holdings partner Doug LaClair said the latest proposal was “giving them everything they wanted” but the board had not told them why they rejected it. He’s ready to sell it back.
LaClair said he was tired of dealing with the matter. “I’m not a politician. Don’t claim to be, never want to be. I’d just as soon sell it back to them and be done with it and let them deal with it. I was trying to bring jobs to the city.”
The contract with Wellston Holdings included buyback clauses if the land isn’t developed two years from its sale. That would be June for the first parcel and August for the second property.