GREEN ACRES

How the Page Avenue extension has been good for influential road-builder Fred Weber Inc. -- through construction contracts, profitable land sales and a sweet deal with St. Louis County to expand its golf course

MoDOT officials contend that taxpayers paid fair market value for the Fred Weber property.

Maryland Heights officials say they approved a golf course on land designated as wetland because they believed they didn't have a legal right to tell Fred Weber what could be built on the company's private property as long as the proposal conformed to local zoning laws.

County officials argue that in light of the improvements Fred Weber will make to the park in exchange for the lease, taxpayers got a good deal. "To me, it's a win-win deal for everybody," Westfall says. "This is an opportunity for Fred Weber to develop an 18-hole golf course, which it otherwise wouldn't have, and it's an opportunity for the county at no risk or pain to itself to give him that opportunity and to get $2 million in improvements that the county would otherwise have to pay for."

Jennifer Silverberg
"To ask a property owner not to develop his or her land on the promise of 'Later we might do something,' well, there's no obligation of anyone to do that." ó Mark Levin, Maryland Heights city administrator
County Executive George "Buzz" Westfall: "No matter what I did, no matter how good a deal it was for the county, somebody, if they want to ... would find reason to criticize."
County Executive George "Buzz" Westfall: "No matter what I did, no matter how good a deal it was for the county, somebody, if they want to ... would find reason to criticize."

Thomas Dunne Sr., the man who has been at the helm of Fred Weber since 1980, did not respond to telephoned or faxed requests for an interview.

Missouri's most successful road-construction company was founded in 1928 by Fred Weber Sr., whose name became synonymous with concrete. It's been said that Weber delivered fruit and cigars as incentives to his road crews in the early days and later, after some success, followed up with generous bonuses and profit-sharing plans for work well done.

But it was the creation of the interstate-highway system in the 1950s that launched Fred Weber Inc. into asphalt stardom, and by 1959, when Fred Weber Jr. took over the business, the company had established its own material-supply business as well. By 1963, the state highway commission had named Fred Weber Inc. its contractor of the year, and when John Weber, Fred Weber Jr.'s brother, took control in 1974, the company — with quarries, cement plants and contracts — was literally pouring one mile of concrete every day.

Over the years, there has barely been a major road-construction project in Missouri that Fred Weber Inc. hasn't worked on. Between 1987 and the middle of 1997 alone, the company won 151 contracts from MoDOT. The company also ventured into other types of projects, including construction of a runway at Lambert International Airport, the infrastructure of Riverport, the Pattonville Community Auditorium and John E. Simon Hall, home of Washington University's Olin School of Business.

Dunne, a longtime employee, was elected president of the company in 1980, and in 1986 the business was sold to its employees, with Dunne heading up management. Today, from its headquarters in Maryland Heights, the company operates six asphaltic concrete production facilities, nine crushed-stone production facilities, a landfill and two sand-production plants. Last year, the company took in $138 million in revenue and is now also a partner in Winghaven, the $550 million, 1,000-acre golf/commercial/residential project in O'Fallon, Mo.

Hand-in-hand with its ascendancy in road-building came the company's entrance into the world of politics.

Fred Weber has long been an established player, contributing generously to political campaigns. The company is a big donor to the Missouri State Democratic Committee and to the political-action committees of trade groups such as Associated General Contractors (AGC), which in turn makes its political presence known even more.

Fred Weber and its executives have made significant contributions to Democratic candidates at the local, state and federal levels. For example, Fred Weber and its executives have given more than $20,000 to Missouri Democratic committees. Gov. Mel Carnahan, who has been a recipient of significant campaign donations from Fred Weber in the '90s, most recently got $7,000 for his bid for the U.S. Senate. At the county level, Fred Weber has donated more than $10,000 to Westfall in the last two campaigns. And County Council Chairman Jeff Wagener, who sponsored the ordinance granting Fred Weber the 30-year lease, has received $1,000 in contributions from the company since 1996.

According to information from the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C., Fred Weber executives — including Dunne, Tony Giordano and John Weber — gave a total of $89,250 to federal candidates in the years 1993-98. Those candidates include Carnahan; U.S. Sens. Christopher Bond and John Ashcroft of Missouri, as well as John McCain (R-Arizona) and Phil Gramm (R-Texas); U.S. Reps. Richard Gephardt and James Talent of Missouri; and the Democratic Leader's Victory Fund and the Majority Leader's Victory Fund.

And last year, when environmentalists and local municipalities sought to block the Page Avenue extension, Fred Weber joined with business groups, developers, homebuilders, trade unions and other contractors in successfully fighting a ballot measure that could have stopped the road project. Fred Weber's $25,000 donation to the pro-Page campaign was the single largest corporate contribution.

Fred Weber's status as the state's largest road-builder also led to a professional intimacy with the Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission. The commission, made up of six members appointed by the governor for six-year terms, runs MoDOT and is responsible for all highway planning and maintenance in the state. Commission members, all professionally associated with commercial, home and road development, dole out the proceeds of an earmarked gasoline-sales tax, which makes up the largest part of the agency's $1 billion annual budget. Unlike other state departments, MoDOT is not financially accountable to the state Legislature, and, according to a source familiar with state and local transportation issues, Fred Weber is an "insider's insider" to the department and its commissioners.

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