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.

"This is nothing more than a land grab," Conway says now.

"We are so close and have moved so far ahead," says Pulliam-Jones. "To give up now would be absurd. This city has endured for 20 years through worse conditions. Why are you trying to push us out now? I'll tell you why. The county has an incredible amount to gain. If we are gone, the county could control the development without the influence of a municipal government."

Westfall disagrees. "I am not looking for any revenue out of this for the county government," he says flatly. "I am not looking for any more responsibility to have by way of police and fire protection. I'm just doing what is best for the people of Kinloch and I'm trying to find a way to make this a more coordinated effort by way of development."

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."

The push to get Kinloch to disincorporate is clearly fueled by concern for the development. In April, Kinloch voters passed a $200,000 bond issue to buy a new fire truck, but the city was unable to float the bonds because its assessed valuation of $3.5 million was too low to borrow the amount.

Asked whether Kinloch's financial picture would be a deal-breaker when it comes time to seek financing or find insurance for the development, Coleman, the county's economic-development director, is more diplomatic than Westfall. "We have been encouraging Kinloch to look at alternatives," he says. "We can't force them into doing anything they don't want to do. We have discussed with them the need to take a hard look at their ability to provide city services, not only for a significant business-park development but to their current city residents. I don't know how much of an issue it will become. Only time will tell. "

The day after the meeting, Westfall says, he called Conway and changed his position on the sale of the park: "I told him if children play in that park I will take his word for it and that we would continue to keep it open."

Nevertheless, Conway has strong words for Westfall.

"They got a plan, [and] I am not planned into it and neither is Kinloch," Conway says. "They accuse me of misleading people and spreading false information. Well, Mr. Westfall, let me tell you something -- how do you expect me to give them accurate information that I don't have? You are meeting with the city and airport, making decisions about our city without us even being there. You are supposed to be representing us, but we have no part in what you are talking about. If I am supposed to lead them the right way, give me the right information, because I am not just going to take your word on it, because I don't trust you, so your word doesn't mean jack to me."

So much mistrust simply means that any development project is a long way from getting done, says Coleman. "It is a little early to be squabbling over who is going to develop what land when no one is on the same page as to what type of development will occur," he says. "To say it is very complex to get [three cities] to work together is an understatement, really. The best-case scenario is that the municipalities understand they can't build anything without acquiring the land and we all understand we need each other to move forward and come up with a plan that produces maximized benefits for everyone. The worst-case scenario is that everybody runs and hides in their own little corner and nothing gets developed."

Ultimately, the St. Louis Airport Commission may hold all the cards. The 17-member commission comprises six members appointed by the St. Louis mayor, five appointed by the St. Louis County executive and one each by the county executives of St. Clair and St. Charles counties, plus four ex officio members. Griggs serves as chairman.

The commission must first send any proposed development plan to the FAA, which will decide whether the plan is compatible with airport standards. Then the airport commission must approve it and sign off on a sale price for the land to be sold back to the municipalities. Airport spokesman Michael Donatt says no price has been placed on the 438-acre parcel, although a recent appraisal of the 175 acres in Kinloch came in at $6.5 million, or about $37,000 per acre. If that price holds for the Berkeley and Ferguson land as well, the total price is likely to be in the $16 million range.

Once the airport commission approves the plan and a sale price, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen must also vote to approve the sale.

But the first step is to get a plan submitted to the airport so it can be sent to the FAA. "I do think that working with the county and a bona fide blanket development authority will be better than this fracturized nonsense of one community against another and this individual representing that one," says Griggs. "We will not, as long as I am director, entertain any proposal that does not pass the light of day. That is why we have not endorsed anything, because what I have seen so far doesn't smack of too much legitimacy. I haven't seen one yet that I would take to the FAA and say, 'I want you to take a look at this.'"

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