Bygones be bygones? St. Louis suburb weighs Kroenke project

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. – Stan Kroenke couldn’t wait to get his NFL team out of St. Louis six months ago, in part because of what his team’s relocation application deemed to be a “struggling economy.”

He must not think the region is all bad: The billionaire is an investor in a proposed large-scale development along the Missouri River in St. Louis County.

Kroenke and attorney Alan Bornstein control Howard Bend Development, one of six entities that submitted proposals this past week to develop some or most of 1,800 acres in Maryland Heights, Missouri. Details won’t be released until later, but whichever project is chosen will likely include offices, stores, restaurants and condominiums. City officials expect to announce the winning project by early 2017.

In a region where Kroenke is widely disliked, can bygones be bygones? Officials in Maryland Heights aren’t ruling him out.

“Somebody with a track record — that’s more important to us than who the developer is,” city spokesman Craig Workman said.

Kroenke certainly has a track record. The native Missourian has developed major projects throughout the nation. In the St. Louis area, he is behind Wentzville Crossing, Gravois Crossing and Chesterfield Commons, three mega-shopping areas.

But that was before the acrimonious departure of the Rams, a huge blow to St. Louis’ pride and status. The team’s 29-page application to move offered a scathing indictment of the region and its fan base. NFL owners in January agreed to allow the Rams to relocate to Los Angeles.

The application was critical of St. Louis’ economic and population growth and cited two NFL-commissioned studies that said it “lags, and will continue to lag, far behind in the economic drivers that are necessary for sustained success of an NFL franchise.”

The hurt remains. Many wonder why Kroenke and Bornstein would want to invest in a market they seemed to find so distasteful.

Joe Brazil, a Republican councilman in St. Charles County, across the river from Maryland Heights, said development in the flood plain is bad enough. If Kroenke is involved, he said, that would make it worse.

“Here you’ve got a guy who pretty much kicked us in the crotch once and now we’re letting him do it again,” Brazil said “I don’t think anybody should be developing on that 1,800 acres. Nobody should. It’s just bad planning.”

Kroenke and Bornstein did not return messages seeking comment.

Workman said flood plain concerns are misguided. Construction of a new 500-year levee that followed the floods of 1993 and 1995 has made the land safe and primed for development, he said.

While the plan with Kroenke and Bornstein hasn’t been made public, it is known that they want funding help from taxpayers for a project.

Bornstein told a city committee earlier this year that he already owned some of the land and was in discussion to buy more. But he told the committee that a “public-private partnership would be necessary” for a project, requiring significant tax incentives.

Taxe incentives such as tax increment financing are common, almost standard, for large-scale development projects in the St. Louis area. Maryland Heights has used TIF for other projects, too, though opponents say it is simply a tax break for the wealthy. Brazil called TIF funding “white-collar welfare.”

Randy Karraker, host of the afternoon drive show on the sports talk radio station 101 ESPN, said listeners who call and text have been “100 per cent” against TIF money for Kroenke. Karraker noted that many St. Louis-area residents are already boycotting existing Kroenke developments.

“I have to believe that will follow them to Maryland Heights if they go there,” he said.

Workman said the time is right to find use for the land that will make Maryland Heights a more attractive place to live.

“We have lots of people who don’t want us to do this for various reasons,” he said. “But we think that not only is the area going to generate an economic engine for the region, it’s ready for a development.”