Feeding Frenzy

Two developers, three cities, the airport and the county are engaged in a dogfight over 438 acres of prime North County land. And there's plenty of sleaze to go around.

Asked last week who recommended Centro, Deinbo says he got Tucci's name by calling the office of St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay. "I can't remember who I talked to at the mayor's office," says Deinbo. "I just asked who had good connections with St. Louis."

Deinbo also says Griggs recommended Tucci. That comes as a surprise to Griggs. "You just told me something I don't know," says the airport director. "I had no idea Kim Tucci was a consultant for Berkeley."

Dennis Coleman, director of the St. Louis County Economic Council, says the county wants the airport land "developed as a whole, instead of piecemeal."
Dennis Coleman, director of the St. Louis County Economic Council, says the county wants the airport land "developed as a whole, instead of piecemeal."

With all the infighting in Berkeley and with Kinloch facing financial ruin, county officials clearly had their hands full trying to put together a package deal to cover all 438 acres. Westfall met with representatives of both Trammell Crow and TriStar to see whether he could get the two developers to work together. "I tried to bring these parties to the table," he says. "But these developers are obviously very successful and well financed and feel strongly enough to fight for development rights. I think they are both jockeying for political support. I told them I would love to see this development effort go forward and believe there is enough room for everybody at the table."

Speaking for Trammell Crow, Branstetter says: "We offered to Buzz Westfall an attempt to find some compromise so the project wouldn't be unnecessarily delayed, but not in a joint-venture format. To date, we understand that TriStar seems to be uninterested."

Chapman says TriStar believes that the cities must decide on any such development partnership, not the developers. "Why would we pretend to say we have the ability to engage in a negotiation like that when it's not up to us?" he asks.

After the meeting with the developers, Westfall turned his attention to Kinloch. He knows that Kinloch is fading fast. Kinloch's bleak revenue picture will place any development project in jeopardy, he says. "I seriously doubt that a bank is going to finance a project in a municipality that can barely provide service to its existing 449 residents," Westfall says. "I just don't see it happening. It would be too much of a financial risk."

Last month, Westfall set up a meeting with Conway and Pulliam-Jones.

"He said he wanted to meet about the future of Kinloch," Conway says. "We thought, 'Finally they are going to give us some real help.' I tried not to get my hopes up because of my past dealings with the county, but I went in trying to be optimistic."

Conway's optimism didn't last long. "First thing he [Westfall] said was that he had a meeting with Col. Griggs and Francis Slay and that they had decided to lift the moratorium on the buyout," Conway says. (In 1999, the airport voluntarily agreed to stop buying properties in Kinloch, at the city's request.) "They decided. Hell, I'm the mayor of Kinloch -- how come I wasn't invited to that meeting?" he asks. "How come you are discussing the future of a city without its mayor and residents?"

Westfall says he sees no point in continuing the buyout moratorium. "I don't know why the airport agreed to it in the first place," he says. "It was unfair to the people who live there now and want to leave. No one is going to buy their home except the airport. Essentially they are trapped in horrid conditions. Why? So a city that has no chance of survival doesn't lose hope?"

Within minutes, the meeting turned contentious. "I told him quite bluntly he was doing a disservice to Kinloch and misleading his citizens because he is holding out for a pot at the end of the rainbow that is simply not going to be there," Westfall says. "The best thing for Kinloch would be to become a part of the neighboring municipality." He suggested a merger with Ferguson or Berkeley. "I would prefer Ferguson because it has a more stable government," Westfall says, "but I wouldn't care if they decided to merge with Berkeley. That's up to Kinloch."

Conway wasn't entertaining any such option and told Westfall that all Kinloch had to do was hold on for another two or three years, until the development was under way. Westfall then informed Conway that Trammell Crow was seeking a "super-TIF' from the state, a provision under which the state turns over half of its share of the incremental sales and income taxes from the development to pay for project-related costs.

That came as a surprise to both Pulliam-Jones and Conway. "We had no idea," Conway says. "None at all. We really felt like our own developer was going behind our back." But Branstetter downplays the significance of the plan, saying no formal application has been made for a super-TIF and none can be made without Kinloch's approval.

Conway says the meeting got downright ugly toward the end, when Westfall mentioned that the county would sell its park in Kinloch for development. "You are trying to choke us out," fumed Conway. "Why don't you just put a noose around our neck? Hell, Buzz, our children play in that park."

"They shouldn't be there," Westfall retorted.

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