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Wellston and Plymouth Industrial Parks

An aerial view of the industrial parks in Wellston the St. Louis County Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority sold after decades of ownership. In the foreground is the Wellston Industrial Park. In the background, to the south of Page Avenue, is the Plymouth Industrial Park. (photo provided by the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership)

St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger has repeatedly denied any involvement in the 2017 sale of two publicly owned Wellston industrial parks to investors who also have donated around $40,000 to his campaign.

But the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership official who oversaw the sale says otherwise.

“To be clear, to be very clear, on the project itself, the bidding process, all of that was started by John Rallo and the relationship with Steve (Stenger),” Joe Bannister, the Partnership’s former vice president of real estate, told the Post-Dispatch.

Rallo was the lead investor in the group that also includes Corey Christanell and Doug LaClair. They purchased the two sites — 43 acres owned by the St. Louis County Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority — for a little more than $525,000.

The Post-Dispatch first reported on the sale in August 2017. The Partnership had not announced the sale or widely publicized its request for proposals beyond a required legal notice.

“Typically you go to 10 or 15 developers, proven developers and say, we have this (RFP) coming out, would you please look at it,” Bannister said. “I was told not to do that. I was directed not to drum up market activity.”

One of the 28-acre sites the group had purchased for $275,000 was back in the news last month, with the Rallo group seeking permission from the LCRA to sell it to a used car auction company, CoPart. The $7 million in investment and 25 jobs from the sale would be well below the $50 million investment and 300 jobs promised when they purchased the site from the county.

The investors needed the LCRA board to approve the CoPart sale because the investment was so different from their initial development proposal.

For months, the investors sought an LCRA meeting. They identified CoPart as a “perfect fit” back in October 2017. Yet Bannister said Partnership CEO Sheila Sweeney “made it abundantly clear that no one was taking any action on anything until after the (August Democratic primary) election.” Stenger squeaked out a victory in the primary, allowing him to cruise to victory in the November general election.

“I was with Sheila several times when John Rallo or Corey (Christanell) would call and say we need to get this wrapped up, will you please call the meeting?” Bannister said. “And Sheila would continually say, Steve (Stenger) has told me to not call the meeting. I’m not going to call the meeting. And then literally after the election, everything was held, as you saw, until just now.”

The LCRA board turned down the request this month.

Bannister said when he was at the Partnership, he researched CoPart and found it had paid $1.5 million in 2010 for a smaller site in Bridgeton.

Stenger’s spokesman said he wouldn’t comment on statements “from disgruntled former employees.” The Partnership has said it is “very concerned” about the Post-Dispatch’s findings.

Rallo, who has reportedly moved to Salt Lake City, did not reply to a text message.

“We continue to work with the Partnership and the LCRA board on the two sites, and it’s inappropriate for us to comment at this time,” Christanell said.