BLACK JACK — The St. Louis County Port Authority will issue another call for redevelopment proposals at the defunct Jamestown Mall site in north St. Louis County, redoing a 2018 process that had selected a developer planning a warehouse and logistics park for the land.
But in the meantime, officials told the 200-plus people who gathered at a nearby church for a Monday town hall meeting that they would move quickly to cut grass and secure the dilapidated 1.2-million-square-foot property near Highways 67 and 367.
“Even though there may not be any activity there, it doesn’t have to be an eyesore,” said Jacqueline Davis-Wellington, a longtime area economic development official whose firm has been hired to help operate the Port Authority.
The powerful Port Authority was at the center of the political struggle between former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger and the County Council, and its use to reward Stenger’s political donors featured prominently in his April federal indictment. One of the Port Authority’s big projects in recent years was acquiring the former mall property, a project that stalled until the economic development agency settled the legal battles that had crippled it during the Stenger administration.
Though the Port Authority had issued a request for proposals last year and selected a well-known Kansas City logistics park builder, NorthPoint Development, to redo the Jamestown Mall site, a contract was never executed. A federal search warrant for Stenger’s phone revealed that he and his former chief of staff, Bill Miller, had been discussing a bribe payment in September in relation to the deal. Who it was intended for and whether it was ever delivered are unclear.
St. Louis County leaders are now calling for a new request for proposals that may solicit more ideas and ensure a firm is selected legally.
“So that the public can have trust in the process, I asked them to put out a new RFP (request for proposals) so that there would be no thoughts of impropriety,” County Councilwoman Rochelle Walton Gray, D-4th District, told her constituents at the Monday evening public forum.
The new leadership of the Port Authority joined St. Louis County Executive Sam Page and Walton Gray at Christ Our Redeemer AME Church to give north St. Louis County residents an update on Jamestown Mall and other projects in the area, as well as take questions and suggestions about handling issues in the area.
Many residents, though, came to hear about Jamestown Mall, closed since 2014 and now owned by the Port Authority. When Walton Gray told the audience at the beginning of the meeting there may not be much to update on the project because a developer hadn’t been chosen, the crowd wasn’t happy.
“We have put up with it for four years since the mall closed and we’re done,” said Mary Lou Walsh, who lives in a subdivision adjacent to the mall and complained of rodents and stray dogs attracted to the site. “It’s not an eyesore. It’s a health hazard.”
Page said he’s confident the Port Authority, now that it’s out of legal limbo, will move quickly to address the property conditions. And a new RFP process might yield responses from developers who were hesitant to work with the Stenger administration for fear of getting caught up in pay-to-play politics, he said.
“Is there an opportunity to put something else there?” Page said. “We hear all the things the community would like to see, so we’re going to open it up one more time to see if there’s another option.”
Walton Gray has expressed some reservations about NorthPoint’s proposal. She said she has talked with NorthPoint about including other uses on the site, including public spaces, some retail or a community center. And while some residents shared her concern about truck traffic through the area if it’s developed into a logistics center, she warned them razing the property would be a major endeavor that only a deep-pocketed firm could handle. And NorthPoint has a proven track record.
“Some people, they don’t want the mall to continue like it is, they would rather see a logistics center,” she said. “I’m in the middle. I don’t want to see it, but I don’t want the mall to remain like it is, either.”
Also Monday, St. Louis Zoo officials updated residents on their plans for a safari and breeding center near the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. But final plans are still a long ways off for the new park. Meeting with residents and developing plans for what types of attractions and facilities will be included in the park is expected to take another year. Officials could begin releasing more details of what the new park will include later in 2020.