The legal spat between two of St. Louis’ richest men heated up this week.
And, from the outside at least, things appear to be growing increasingly personal.
Michael Staenberg fired back in St. Louis County Court against longtime partner Stan Kroenke — who sued him in December — with a counterclaim seeking at least $6.8 million in damages. But beyond the demand for money, the 223-page document lays bare a variety of disputes between the men, who together built their THF empire into one of the nation’s biggest shopping-plaza developers but have come to legal blows as they unwind it.
In his suit, Staenberg claims Kroenke ignored a $1.54 million bill for customizing his luxury condo in a Clayton high-rise the pair built, and last fall blocked Staenberg’s bid to buy in the same building. Staenberg also accuses his partner of withholding millions of dollars in leasing payments and development fees on dozens of shopping centers, and not paying taxes in three states.
Attorneys and spokesmen for both men declined comment. But what’s on paper in their respective lawsuits depicts a very messy breakup between the pair, whose wealth enabled Kroenke to become majority owner of the St. Louis Rams and England’s Arsenal soccer club and Staenberg to become one of the region’s leading philanthropists.
In December, Kroenke accused Staenberg of reneging on $20.2 million he owed as part of the unwinding of their complex web of real estate holdings — under way for about a year at that point. Kroenke also said Staenberg blocked his access to computer records at THF Realty, one of two umbrella companies the pair jointly owned.
The computer-access issue was quickly resolved after Kroenke sued, but the rest of the suit headed to court. And on Tuesday, Staenberg aired his side of things.
He claims Kroenke in recent months has withheld payment of $3.3 million in leasing commissions and development fees to THF Realty — where Staenberg is still president. He also says Kroenke failed to repay THF Realty employees for personal business they did on his behalf, and failed to pay his share of non-resident taxes in Illinois, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
And then, deeper in the three-inch-thick document, things start to get personal.
Kroenke and Staenberg jointly developed the Plaza in Clayton, an office building and 31-story condo tower which today on its website advertises “a peerless address.” When it opened about ten years ago, both men got a unit, and agreed to pay for “build-out and customization,” the suit claims. Staenberg says he paid his bill, but Kroenke, who owed $1.54 million, never did, “despite demand.”
Staenberg later sold his unit in the Plaza but still managed the company that owned the building. When he tried to buy an 18th-floor condo last fall for $1.38 million, the suit says, Kroenke replaced him with his longtime business agent, Otto Maly. Maly then upped the asking price, and when Staenberg agreed, refused to close on a sale. That, Staenberg claims, is a breach of fiduciary duty, as is Maly’s rejection of other offers in the months since.
Just for good measure, Staenberg also claims Kroenke changed the terms of a loan guarantee after his longtime partner signed it, and without telling him.
Barring a settlement — which people close to the case say is not imminent — the sorting out of who really did what to whom in Kroenke v. Staenberg will fall to a St. Louis County judge. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Thursday in Clayton.