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St. Louis County reacquires development sites at center of Stenger indictment

St. Louis County reacquires development sites at center of Stenger indictment

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Plymouth Industrial Park

The entrance to the empty Plymouth Industrial Park on Page Avenue in Wellston. After 30 years, St. Louis County finally sold it, and the new owners say they are trying to find logistics and light industrial uses. (photo by Jacob Barker/Post-Dispatch)

WELLSTON — A St. Louis County agency has repurchased the two industrial development sites at the center of former County Executive Steve Stenger’s federal bribery case, though what St. Louis County officials will do with the property remains unclear.

Wellston Holdings LLC, a business that included Stenger donor John Rallo as a partner, sold the land back to the St. Louis Land Clearance Redevelopment Authority, or LCRA, for the same price it had paid for the real estate back in 2017.

Rallo and Stenger are both serving federal prison sentences for a pay-to-play scheme that also led to guilty pleas from Bill Miller, who served as Stenger’s chief of staff, and Sheila Sweeney, the former head of the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, which administers the county LCRA.

Stenger helped Rallo and his partners at Wellston Holdings purchase the two former factory sites along Page Boulevard in Wellston; one is 28 acres, the other 15 acres. Rallo and his partners bought the land for a combined $525,000 after donating tens of thousands of dollars to Stenger.

The county had spent millions of dollars and years cleaning and preparing the land for redevelopment that would benefit the residents of the lower income area of north St. Louis County. Instead, Rallo and his partners sought to flip the land for a used vehicle auction company storage lot that would have netted them millions but resulted in few jobs.

The LCRA and Wellston Holdings reached the agreement to give the land back to the county in June, more than a year after federal prosecutors handed down indictments in the corruption investigation. The sale wasn’t recorded until Aug. 6, and the agreement contains a provision barring either side from disclosing “the terms, conditions or existence of this Agreement.”

The Post-Dispatch obtained the agreement through an open records request.

The Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority agreed to release Wellston Holdings, whose remaining partners are former Anheuser-Busch executive Corey Christanell and construction professional Doug LaClair, from liability. However, the agreement says LCRA does not release Rallo from any future claims.

Wellston Holdings says in the agreement that neither Rallo nor his family or associates have any remaining ownership interest in Wellston Holdings LLC.

Partnership CEO Rodney Crim, who in March said the LCRA would issue a new request for proposals when a deal closed, said in a statement last week that “we are exploring the creation of an overall area redevelopment plan, which will include these parcels and others.”

When the Post-Dispatch pointed out that St. Louis County already has a recent development plan for the area, the 270-page “Wellston First Transformation Plan” accepted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban development in 2016 following a two-year planning process, the Partnership sent a new statement.

“In partnership with St. Louis County, the City of Wellston, and the LCRA, the Partnership is exploring an overall redevelopment plan in the City of Wellston,” Crim’s statement said. “We are reviewing existing development studies including the newly announced Wellston housing strategy, and building on previous plans to ensure sustainable equitable commercial and residential development with community input. We look forward to sharing more details in the near future.”

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