Jamestown Mall takes another hit


ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
03/22/2009
By Paul Hampel and Denise Hollinshed

The last major shopping center in northeast St. Louis County took another blow last week.

Jamestown Mall, already staggered by the closing of two of its four anchor stores -- Dillard's, in 2006, and Sears, in January -- lost St. Louis County's support for a proposed redevelopment that would have included $40.3 million in tax abatement.

Although the decision was definitely a negative, county officials say they are not abandoning the 36-year-old facility.

In July, the center's owner, New York-based Carlyle Development Group, submitted plans to the county to transform the mall in four stages. The first stage was to convert 215,000 square feet of space formerly occupied by Dillard's into offices.

Carlyle had proposed spending $120 million on the project.

The county pulled its support when it recently learned that Carlyle was preparing to auction off the old Dillard's space on April 8.

"Dillard's is the primary focus of their redevelopment and it's going to be auctioned?" said Tim Tucker, vice president of real estate and development with the county's Economic Council. "At that point, we recognized that the plan was a little bit shaky."

Carlyle officials did not return several messages seeking comment.

The mall, built in 1973, once competed for North County shoppers with River Roads Mall, which closed in 1995, and Northland shopping center, torn down in 2006 and rebuilt as a strip mall.

Now, Jamestown is the only mall remaining between the Mississippi River and St. Louis Mills in Hazelwood, about 15 miles west by highway.

Jamestown's remaining anchor stores are Macy's and a J.C. Penney Outlet, along with a 14-screen Wehrenberg theater.

Of the roughly three dozen remaining businesses, including kiosks, only a few have name-recognition status, among them a Kay Jewelers, a Radio Shack and a Victoria's Secret.

The mall's vast parking lot held only a smattering of vehicles on a recent afternoon.

Traffic appeared even lighter inside the mall. Half of the lights in the food court were off. Only two businesses still operate there, one serving Chinese fare, the other sandwiches.

A few shoppers strolled through the Macy's. The only flurry of activity was at the J.C. Penney Outlet, where shoppers looked for bargains advertised in a sales circular.

Betty Anderson, 74, of Florissant, who has shopped at the mall since it opened, bemoaned its current state.

"It's just sad," she said. "It was convenient because we live very close to it. Now, we might have to go to another mall. North County is just not appreciated."

Charles Jenkins, owner of St. Louis Airbrush, a custom T-shirt shop, has rented space at the mall for five years. He predicted the mall would rebound.

"Everybody is affected by the economy and this is what happens," he said.

Tucker, with the Economic Council, said problems that predate the current economic crisis have plagued the mall for years.

"It's not just Jamestown Mall. It's Northwest Plaza, Crestwood (Court), the St. Louis County malls -- they're all experiencing extreme stress," Tucker said. "What's true is that retail was overbuilt during the '80s and '90s and now we're seeing the fallout."

Tucker also blamed shifting demographics, the steady migration of the population to far-flung suburbs.

"Residential density development did not occur like it was anticipated it would in 1973," he said.

By this summer, the county hopes to have a panel assembled to "brainstorm" about potential uses of the property, Tucker said.

Carlyle officials will be invited to participate in those discussions, Tucker said, though county officials have not received a response since they wrote to the company last week regarding withdrawal of support for the project.

He also said the county had been in contact with officials from the National Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit group that specializes in finding alternative uses for property.

"We are concerned with the residents and businesses around the Jamestown Mall," Tucker said. "We want to come up with a sustainable, viable and economically exciting development for the area."

 
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