Have Chesterfield decision-makers fallen prey to feeling a need to over-beautify a commercial development and making it harder for the businesses to succeed?
I've seen this happen in West County—including instances when a city and a developer together hurt the chances that potential customers will find stores.
Cities want lots of landscaping. Trees and bushes are a favorite. Signs listing all the stores in a shopping center are often unwanted since they just clutter up things, say some city councils.
Once developers rent the center, they are happy. Often they forget about the trees and bushes they planted to satisfy city councils. Those trees and shrubs continue to do something called grow, and block visibility.
In short, that's a problem for businesses and the public.
Zoning Codes that allow success
While you have to control signs, and eliminate waving banners and flashing strobe lights, cities also have to be reasonable enough to give businesses a chance to succeed.
Allowing directory signs by the road that lists small merchants in a large strip center is one way to help.
At a recent Chesterfield Planning and Zoning meeting, things may have gotten off to a rough start for one of the new outlets malls.
Let’s refer to them as the River Outlet and the Hockey Rink Outlet, since one is planned next to the Missouri River and the other has broken ground just west of Hardee's Iceplex.
The Chesterfield Planning Board has discussed isses about landscaping and signs. I think they need to remember these are outlet malls.
I live with an expert on shopping and she tells me that over the years, many outlet malls are no longer resevoirs for slow-selling merchandise at drastically reduced prices. She says outlet prices are frequently the same as department store sale prices.
To offer people much in price reductions, stores have to have reasonable rents. With a city requiring more landscaping and less signage than the stores at Chesterfield Commons, it will put merchants at a big disadvantage.
I have no problem with the planning commission denying a 65-foot tower in favor of 45 feet. (Although the developer's response so far is simply knocking 5 feet off each of about six towers.)
A limit of 45 feet seems reasonable. You don’t want private plane pilots mistaking an outlet tower for the control tower at adjacent Spirit of St. Louis Airport—and landing on the mall parking lot.
Blinded by reality
Then Chesterfield Commissioner Michael Watson had objections to a glowing light within the proposed tower.
“When you get the fog rolling in down there, the whole valley will be lit up," Watson said.
Is Watson worried that some boat on the Missouri River will mistake it for a navigational marker? Watson isn't up to speed on advances in lighting. The proposed LED lights will reduce their brightness as it gets darker.
Is Watson worried that in a fog the light will affect pumpkins growing next door at the Rombach farm?
I have to think the lights at the nearby airport or the Chesterfield Commons shopping center will light up Chesterfield Valley much more than a glow from the River Outlet Mall.
The key to a mall like this is that motorists see it. After all, it does line the edge of Highway 40/64. Hiding it behind trees and taking away architectural landmarks will hurt merchants in the mall.
And with two outlet malls within a few miles of each other, directory signs at the entrance should be allowed. This is not to help merchants, but to help shoppers, who are also known as taxpayers and are looking for a specific store.
Show us the money
The buzz is that one of the outlet malls will not get built, and how an outlet mall will hurt business in Chesterfield Mall. While Chesterfield Mall may take a hit, I think the businesses in Hazelwood at the St. Louis Mills outlet mall are the ones to be worried.
Let’s face it, even during a recession the most disposal income around the St. Louis area is in West County. Keep in mind that many West Countians basically consider anything north of Olive Street Road as being somewhat geographically challenged, and anything north of Page Boulevard, a DMZ.
These Chesterfield outlet malls are going to take a lot of cash away from St. Louis Mills outlets in Hazelwood.
But now the people building the Hockey Rink Outlet Mall have already confused me with their "sign."
They put up an “Under Construction” sign that you should be able to read from I-64 that runs right past it, letting potenial customers know about a future shopping experience.
But the sign is light pink letters on a white background. Not only can’t you read it from I-64, you have a hard time reading it from the service road 20 feet away from the sign (see accompanying photo of it.)
AVOID THE TAX GIVEAWAY
I just hope Chesterfield city leaders are smart enough not to give either outlet mall developer special tax increment financing.
This area spends money, and this is where the developers want to build. They should
Special tax deals should be avoided, despite the applications of both developers. These tax breaks were created to provide incentatives to developers in areas that were less than desirable. These areas aren't blighted now. They were perfectly productive farm fields.