Jamestown Mall quietly closes its doors, planning for a rebirth of the site begins

St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), 2014-07-18

July 18 -- FLORISSANT -- With the Jamestown Mall quietly locking its doors, officials hope the passing creates an opening to transform a site that has long troubled north St. Louis County residents and leaders.

"The goal is to put the property in a condition where we have reasonable hope to develop it to serve the citizens of North County," said Andrew Ruben , a senior vice president of the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership .

The County Planning Commission is expected to begin the process Monday by approving a declaration to mark the 1.2 million-square-foot parcel as a "blighted area."

That measure will signal the first step to what could be a comprehensive redevelopment plan.

Studies have recommended a mixed-use conversion to accommodate housing developments, senior living units and approximately 200,000 square feet of retail shops.

The planning commission recommendation will be passed along to the County Council .

The possibility of condemning the site to pave the way for redevelopment will entail gaining state approvals and could drag on for years.

"The estimated timetable is 10 years," said Ruben, adding, "We will do everything in our power to expedite the process but this is a complicated and long-term project."

Carolyn Marty , president and CEO of the Greater North County Chamber of Commerce , sees widespread support for a radical transformation for a retail site long in decline.

"From the chamber's perspective this is the path we want to see happen," Marty said. "Someone needs to move forward so we can bring economic development to that area of North County."

County Executive Charlie Dooley said the county is seeking to blight the area because the mall's business model stood in the way of redevelopment.

Jamestown Mall ownership is divided among five different parties. One company owns the majority of the mall proper; the rest of the property is divided among the corporate owners of the anchor stores and other investors. Dooley said the owners have not responded to county requests about redeveloping the property.

Mall security and maintenance will for now continue to be the responsibility of the five owners, Ruben said.

But, as Dooley explained in a letter inviting residents and businesses to share their thoughts on the future of the property: " St. Louis County cannot move forward in any productive manner in terms of future development of the site unless we actually have some control over the property, which currently remains in the hands of private owners."

The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday at the North County Recreation Complex , 2577 Redman Road .

Assistant Blackjack Fire Chief Ankeneth Corbin promised representatives of the fire district will attend.

The district, Corbin said, "has multiple areas of concern" about what lies ahead -- including compensating for the absence of what was once a major source of revenue.

The district has additional misgivings about safety after young people turned an abandoned section of the mall into an illegal haunted house last year.

Corbin said an illicit venue that operated until authorities learned of it on a social media site raises concerns that homeless people or other individuals will find a way to get into the empty mall.

Some contend the mall was doomed from the start by a lack of foresight.

The building went up near the terminus of North Lindbergh Boulevard in an area where the addition of nearby housing never reached projections.

Unlike many malls, Jamestown was not built near a major interstate highway or mass transit.

County Planning Director Glenn Powers believes the physical placement of the mall on a plot where it was obscured by a corn and soybean field also contributed to its decline.

Powers also questioned why the sinkholes and underground caves that eventually threatened the mall infrastructure were not discovered when the site plan was developed.

In its final years the mall was further bedeviled by power outages, the loss of heat and an exodus of retailers -- large and small.

The death knell was sounded when Macy's, the last of the Jamestown anchor stores, closed its doors earlier this year.

The mall was 41 years old when its few remaining tenants departed the building last week. The UniverSoul Circus, scheduled for next week in the parking lot, will go on despite the demise of the mall.

"It was wonderful in its heyday," Marty said.

General assignment reporter Steve Giegerich covers St. Louis County . On Twitter @stevegiegerich


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