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

By the beginning of 1999, as the golf course and its restaurant gained in popularity, the state had already bought the company's $3.3 million lot to the south of the park and had awarded several contracts to Fred Weber Inc. for work to extend Page Avenue. The company would soon profit again.

Earlier this year, the Crystal Springs Quarry Golf Club — now to the north of the park — announced the opening of a Pro Golf Discount store on the site, and Nick Sansone, director of golf for the club, also hinted to a Post-Dispatch reporter that the nine-hole course would soon be expanded to 18 holes. The story appeared on March 15, 1999, and at that time, Sansone "declined to discuss the course's efforts to secure more land." The story also quoted Levin, the Maryland Heights city administrator, as saying that the company had not yet filed an application with the city for any permits to increase the size of the course.

Eight days later, Fred Weber did submit its application to the Maryland Heights planning and zoning commission to expand its golf course, an application that was approved by the full City Council.

At that time, however, the only available land for the course's expansion was recently purchased mitigation property, which the state had just turned over to St. Louis County for the park.

Susan Poling, speaking for the St. Louis County Parks Department, explains the events that soon followed:

"Weber had already developed a nine-hole golf course adjacent to Creve Coeur Park, and they knew that in order to be competitive in the market, you have to have an 18-hole golf course. So they had a need, and they approached St. Louis County. In talking to them about it, we pointed out that our property was immediately adjacent to their golf course."

After pointing out this coincidence, the county also informed Fred Weber that the master plan for the park (the one published by the Park Service back in 1995) indicated that the land on the northeast side of the park was to be used for "active recreational" purposes. Because golf is "active recreation," and because the county felt that more golf courses were needed for the county's aging population and because Fred Weber's golf course was right there ....

"Normally, if we were going to develop something in St. Louis County parks, we would have to go through a bidding process, where we would ask general contractors to bid on the development of, let's say, a community center or a playground. But Weber was a contiguous landowner, and when you have a contiguous landowner, we are allowed to enter into agreements with them."

The agreement, brought to the St. Louis County Council by Chairman Jeff Wagener, said that in exchange for $2 million worth of infrastructure improvements to the park, Fred Weber could lease at no cost — and pay no property taxes on — 166 acres of mitigation land in the park to double the size of his privately owned golf course.

The $2 million in infrastructure improvements include the following: bringing water and sewer facilities for restrooms to the Creve Coeur Lake sailboat cove; bringing utilities to the site of a future sports complex; grading the sports-complex area; and seeding and installing an irrigation system in the sports-complex area. Poling says there may be enough money left over to do more, but the exact terms of the lease have not been worked out yet.

Fred Weber will then be able to use the 166 acres of parkland to build a second nine-hole course that will be used by the company for the next 30 years. Under the agreement approved unanimously by the St. Louis County Council last April, after 30 years, the 166 acres will be turned back over to the county.

Westfall says he fully supports the lease agreement, because the county otherwise would not have had the funds to build its own golf course. The deal is good, he admits, for Fred Weber as well.

"My goal as county executive is to do what I think enhances the quality of life in St. Louis County. In this instance, we're talking about golf, and though I don't golf, this is a golfing community more now than ever. It's growing, with young people getting involved and women getting involved more than ever, so the fact that he (Dunne) was a smart enough businessman to buy that land and now this has happened, that's to his benefit," Westfall says.

"In this case, I think we're going to have a spectacular golf course, one of the nicest in the community, $2 million in improvements to the park in general in exchange for that deal, and it really doesn't matter who's running the golf course or benefiting from a financial point of view, as long as they're doing a good job and as long as the golfers in the community, and the community as a whole, is benefiting from it, and I think they will. I think people will be thrilled with it."

Westfall bristles at the idea that his support of the Page Avenue extension and the 30-year lease with Fred Weber had anything to do with the company's political influence or its campaign donations to him. He insists that the deal is a good one, whether Fred Weber profits or not.

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