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The Secret Opposition to the Outlet Malls

Who is behind some of the opposition to special sales tax for the developers of the outlet malls?

I've written several columns here opposing special sales tax schemes proposed for two outlet malls under development in Chesterfield Valley. Then Ed Rhode, a local public relations expert, sent me a link to a website: notooutletgiveaways.com

The website waxes against giving tax increment funding by giving TIFs that defer property taxes and by allowing special sales tax districts for road construction known as TDDs or for simply paying for part of the costs for building the development know as a CID (Commercial Improvement District).   

Chesterfield Patch Editor Jean Whitney made a reference to this group on Election Day when she included a photo of a person collecting signatures on a petition against giving tax abatement or special development sales taxes to the outlet malls. She said the person collecting signatures at Chesterfield City Hall polling site said he was with a company which collected signatures on petitions for various issues and he did not know who was behind the drive.   

The website is very professional. You can write the mayor or councilmember by just clicking on a name. If you are not sure exactly what to write, don’t worry. the website has a canned message for you to use.

If you want to share this information on Facebook or tweet it, the website can do that too. Again, the message is written for you. No writing required, and no thinking.

I happen to agree with the message the people behind this website are promoting. TIFs and special sales tax districts to help developers were designed in an attempt to rebuild blighted inner city business districts around Los Angeles, and on the East Coast.

Originally, the tax deals were not for wealthy developers to use in affluent areas in order to avoid considerable risk when building from the ground up.

Despite agreeing with the principal of the petition drive and the message of the website, I have to admit I find it very creepy because it is anonymous. If you click the “About US” on the website, you don’t get any name, people or businesses.

Now for example, with the opposition groups to and Rockwood School District, there are people listed on the websites, and people who send out emails under their names.

However, when you click on “Contact Us” with the "No to outlet mall giveaways" an email blank pops up with the address of info@notooutletgiveaways.com

I sent “info” the following email May 2:

From: John Hoffmann [mailto:johnhoffmann@charter.net]
Sent: Wednesday, May 02, 2012 3:37 PM
To: 'info@notooutletgiveaways.com'
Subject: the no to outlet giveaways

Hi, I see you linked to several of the columns I wrote on this subject.

I’d be interested in doing a follow up column, but need to find out who is paying for the website and the petitions.

Thanks

John Hoffmann

I never got a response.

So looking at the possibilities, Chesterfield Mall would be a perfect business to support opposition to the planned outlet malls just one and two exits away along I-64.

I even wrote a column saying tax breaks for outlet malls would be unfair to Chesterfield Mall shops, since they've had to labor without such advantages. 

Chesterfield Mall is owned by CBL & Associates Properties, Inc. which is a Real Estate Investment Trust or a REIT located in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It owns over 120 other malls in the U.S., including West County Center in Des Peres, which has had a CID sales tax since 2008. 

CBL is also developing outlet malls in Atlanta and Oklahoma City.

I sent CBL an email asking if it (or Chesterfield Mall local management) was behind the website and the petition drive. I got a quick reply from CBL’s vice president of media relations, Katie Reinsmidt, saying CBL didn’t have anything to do with the petition drive or the website.

On Monday, I went to Chesterfield Mall and spoke to managers of about half dozen stores. Everyone said they had not heard of the website or petition drive.

I then went to the management offices of Chesterfield Mall, which are oddly separate from CBL Properties offices at the Mall.

No one with Chesterfield Mall would speak to me, but referred me downstairs to the marketing reps with CBL. Those people were out. No one returned my message asking for a call.

My trail next went to the Chesterfield Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber’s new director, Robey Taylor, said not only was the Chamber not behind the website, this was the first he had heard of it.

On Friday, I asked staff members with the and an elected official about the petition drive against the outlet's tax break. No one was aware of the website.

Mike Neary, leasing manager for Chesterfield Commons (in the Valley) was the next phone call. Chesterfield Commons has gotten tax breaks, including a TIF and a Traffic Development District sales tax. But the outlets will be competition for his tenants, too.

Neary, like everyone else, said he was unaware of the petitions and asked me to email him the website link.

Having been a police detective, sometimes I like knowing answers to questions I plan to ask. In this case I was getting no information and went ahead and contacted the person who sent me the website information to begin with.

Ed Rhode is a longtime information spin manager. He was the press aide to former U.S. Congressman Richard Gephardt of Missouri. More recently he was an aide for two terms to St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, before starting his own PR firm.

Rhode and I exchanged email:

From: John Hoffmann [mailto:johnhoffmann@charter.net]
Sent: Sunday, May 06, 2012 1:04 PM
To: 'Ed Rhode'
Subject: question

Ed,

Can you tell me who is behind this website? 

John Hoffmann

From: Ed Rhode [mailto:rhode6@aol.com]
Sent: Monday, May 07, 2012 10:50 AM
To: John Hoffmann
Subject: Re: question

Hi John,

There's a group of residents and businesses opposed to the subsidies behind this.

Ed

From: John Hoffmann [mailto:johnhoffmann@charter.net]
Sent: Monday, May 07, 2012 10:52 AM
To: 'Ed Rhode'
Subject: RE: question

 Thanks Ed, but who are they?  Why doesn’t anyone want to put their name on it?

From: John Hoffmann [mailto:johnhoffmann@charter.net]
Sent: Monday, May 07, 2012 11:01 AM
To: 'Ed Rhode'
Subject: RE: question

Ed,

In other words, who is your client on this matter?

John

From: Ed Rhode [mailto:rhode6@aol.com]
Sent: Monday, May 07, 2012 11:05 AM
To: John Hoffmann
Subject: Re: question

I do work for a group thats opposed to public subsidies everywhere and wants to create a level playing field.

I was recently raising public awarness in Ellisville.

From: John Hoffmann [mailto:johnhoffmann@charter.net]
Sent: Monday, May 07, 2012 1:12 PM
To: 'Ed Rhode'
Subject: RE: question

Good for them…I am all for that.  SO what is the name of that group? I think the public has a right to know who is behind political action movements, don’t you?

From: Ed Rhode [mailto:rhode6@aol.com]
Sent: Monday, May 07, 2012 1:26 PM
To: John Hoffmann
Subject: Re: question

John,

I am not at liberty to discuss my clients, however, there have been SEVERAL groups who have been opposed to public subsidies all across the county, and not just Ellisville or Chesterfield.

If you attended any of the Ellisville meetings they were all there testifying.

The followup.

So, attend the Chesterfield City Council public hearing I must on Monday night, a hearing on a Commercial Improvement District (CID) tax for the outlet mall next to the Missouri River.   

The people at the public hearing were a mix of young and older, with the majority speaking in opposition of a CID sales tax for the outlet mall.

The petitions cropped up by the fifth speaker, Larry Lamb, who stepped to the microphone at the podium.

Lamb said he wanted to present petitions with close to 1,000 signatures against the CID for the outlet mall. He read the petition’s statement and then was handing the stack of papers to City Clerk Judy Naggier.

At the same time, from opposite ends of the dais Councilperson Connie Fults and Barry Flachsbart were trying to get Mayor Bruce Geiger’s attention and Fults won out.

“Who do you represent? Who is paying for the petition and the website,” Fults asked in short order.

The answer was like something out of a David Baldacci mystery novel.

Lamb said he was outside city hall before the meeting when a man asked him if he was a resident, and would submit the petitions to the city. Lamb said he would be happy to.

Lamb then said he was sure the man was in the council chambers, and would he please raise his hand. He turned and looked out at the crowd. There was no one. 

It was like a ghost in the night. Some mysterious man who drove to Chesterfield City Hall with a stack of petitions, and had vanished into the muggy night.  

If anyone has information about the mysterious petition drive, email the author or comment below.          

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