Retail X Missouri

Turning a dying St. Louis Mall into The Crossings at Northwest mixed-use development

There will soon be one fewer dead mall in the Midwest, thanks to a partnership between a developer, bank, investment fund and government agencies in St. Louis County, Mo.

[caption id="attachment_17463" align="aligncenter" width="800" caption="This nearly empty mall is becoming a mixed-use development."] There will soon be one fewer dead mall in the Midwest, thanks to a partnership between a developer, bank, investment fund and government agencies in St. Louis County, Mo.

And that certainly counts as good news. Few pieces of real estate are as depressing as are nearly empty malls.

In St. Ann, Missouri, located in St. Louis County, developer Raven Development is tackling a $106 million redevelopment of what was once known as Northwest Plaza, a 122-acre property housing a now nearly dead mall. Replacing this dying mall will be a mixed-use development to be called The Crossings at Northwest. Supporters of the project envision the day when new office users, retailers, restaurants, high-tech firms, call centers, schools and medical users call the development home.

Monica Connors, vice president of business development with the St. Louis County Economic Council, said that the ground-breaking ceremony attracted a large crowd, many of whom were there to say goodby to what was once an iconic mall in the St. Louis area.

"So many people came out," Connors said during a phone interview. "Many of them talked about how the mall had touched their lives. They were in their 40s, and they had hung out at the mall in their teens. There was definitely a time when the mall was the place to be."

Construction crews started demolition work in early November, taking down the first pieces of the former Sears Automotive Building. Construction is expected to wrap up in two to three years, though office and retail space is available now. The first tenant, Menard's, has already committed to the development.

The redevelopment is being overseen by a partnership among Raven Development, St. Louis County, city of St. Ann, the state of Missouri, Heartland Regional Economic Fund and U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation.

David Glarner, principal of Raven Development, said that The Crossings at Northwest will bring jobs -- both during the construction phase and after the development opens -- to St. Louis County. The project, though, will also give nearby residents a new, quality destination at which to gather.

"What you are going to see is one of the most highly polished mixed-use developments in the region," Glarner said in a written statement. "The Crossings will be a magnet for the community, a real gathering spot. We are excited to bring all these new amenities."

The birth of this project can be traced to 2010. That's when Heartland Regional Investment Fund -- managed by St. Louis County Economic Council -- was awarded $32 million in New Markets Tax Credits. The investment fund provided $10 million of these funds to Raven Development for The Crossings at Northwest.

U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation, the St. Louis-based community-development subsidiary of U.S. Bank, provided New Markets Tax Credit equity, capitalizing the allocation.

The tax credits were essential to the project. The nearly dead mall sits in an economically struggling section of St. Louis County. New Markets Tax Credits are reserved for projects in the most distressed U.S. Census tracts.

"Aging malls are one of the biggest challenges for economic developers across the nation right now," said Denny Coleman, president and chief executive officer of St. Louis County Economic Council. "We knew finding a new life for Northwest Plaza was the key to kick-starting redevelopment throughout our North County."

Conners said that the rebirth of this property is important for the financial health of St. Louis County. The mall once ranked as the largest mall in the United States west of the Mississippi River. In 2002, the property was valued at $75 million, Conners said. But by 2011, that valuation had dropped to $5 million.

This was a negative blow to area taxing districts. The job losses that came with the dying of the mall hurt the community, too.

"I know that a lot of people are sad to see the mall go," Conners said. "But to see it revitalized is also bringing a lot of hope."