A generally mild winter has resulted in a building boom in Chesterfield as construction continues on major development projects, including Wildhorse Village. When complete, the multi-use development located near Interstate 64 and Chesterfield Parkway West will include residential, office and retail space. In that regard, it is not unlike the planned redevelopment of the property that today houses Chesterfield Mall.
Both Chesterfield Mall and Wildhorse Village are part of the $353 million Chesterfield Regional TIF (tax increment financing) Redevelopment Plan and Project, which was approved by the city's Regional TIF Commission and the City Council in November and December 2022 respectively. But even with those approvals granted, the process of creating Downtown Chesterfield has not been smooth sailing.
As forewarned at the Chesterfield City Council's December meeting, current mall landowner Dillard’s, Inc. has filed a lawsuit against the city over TIF Redevelopment Plan. In the suit that was filed Dec. 20, Dillard’s claims that the city and the developers, Wildhorse Village, LP, and TSG (The Staenberg Group) Downtown Chesterfield Redevelopment, LLC, colluded to use TIF for the Chesterfield Regional TIF Redevelopment Plan and Project.
The redevelopment plan covers an area of approximately 241 acres. Approximately 75 acres is the Chesterfield Mall property, and the remaining acreage is currently under development. Dillard’s owns approximately 17 acres within the redevelopment area.
In order for the redevelopment to qualify for TIF certain conditions must be met, which Dillard's representatives claim has not happened.
Under Section 99.810 of state code, the first requirement is that the redevelopment area on the whole be blighted; the second is that the area must not be subject to growth and redevelopment; and the third is the “but for” test, as in "but for the TIF funds, the redevelopment would not occur."
In the TIF Redevelopment Plan prepared by consulting firm PGAV Planners designated blighted factors include insanitary or unsafe conditions, deterioration of site improvements, conditions that endanger life or property and social liability.
“However, neither PGAV (Planners) nor the TIF Commission or the City Council did a parcel-by-parcel determination of blight," the lawsuit states. “If such a parcel-by-parcel determination had been done as required, the redevelopment plan would clearly show that based on square footage, the areas of alleged blight are substantially less than the areas that are not blighted.”
The lawsuit further states that while the plan references issues like graffiti in the parking garage and a paint can that was thrown in the enclosed mall as evidence of “unsafe conditions” and “persistent criminal behavior,” there are no references to muggings, shootings, drug deals, burglaries or other criminal behavior.
In regard to the 'but for” test, Dillard's claims that TSG, or an affiliate, has been acquiring millions of dollars of property in the mall area without TIF with the intent of redeveloping it. The lawsuit also suggests that PGAV failed to mention any contact it had with Dillard’s, while stating that the vacant Dillard’s parcel is an economic liability.
“If PGAV had contacted Dillard’s, it would have learned that Dillard’s wants and intends to reopen its retail store on the Dillard’s parcel in connection with TSG’s overall redevelopment," the suit claims. "Dillard’s and TSG have actively discussed this for three and a half years." (The Dillard's at Chesterfield Mall closed in September 2016 following a water main break and subsequent flooding inside the store's three levels.)
In it's lawsuit, Dillard’s main point of contention is that the city introduced and pursued TIF in collusion with TSG and CRG.
The lawsuit reads, "The defendant and the developers acted together in bad faith and intentionally disregarded and/or omitted material facts and/or willfully refused to conduct diligent inquiry with respect to the same in connection with the redevelopment plan, with the intent to strip property rights from landowners within the redevelopment area, including Dillard’s, without proper process of law.”
The redevelopment plan provides that in the event that Dillard’s and the developers cannot reach an agreement as to the purchase of the property, the city can use eminent domain to acquire it.
In its lawsuit, Dillard's is asking the court to declare Chesterfield's ordinances designating the redevelopment area and approving the plan along with the use of TIF invalid and in violation of state statutes. The Arkansas-based company is also requesting that the city begin again with the TIF process, or declare that the Dillard’s parcel not be included in the redevelopment area and that the use of eminent domain cannot be used against the Dillard’s parcel.
Attorneys for Dillard's include John J. Gazzoli, Jr. and Theresa A. Phelps from Rosenblum Goldenhersh P.C. Armstrong Teasdale is representing Chesterfield.
"The city disagrees with the allegations made by Dillard’s in its lawsuit – particularly any allegations about collusion between the city and any developer,” the city responded in a statement. “At all times, the city engaged in a process that was appropriate, fair and lawful. We intend to present evidence of this to the judge."