HAZELWOOD, Mo. – It was once the hottest shopping spot in town. But now, it appears the St. Louis Outlet Center is on the decline.

Financial analyst Juli Niemann says it's a sign Hazelwood is the latest victim in a destructive game.

"We just keep shifting around. So you have 'bigger your neighbor,' and that's exactly what's happening with every suburb," said Niemann, of Smith Moore.

Niemann attributes some of the St. Louis Outlet Center's decline to the shift to newer outlets in Chesterfield.

While the city manager says sales have declined city-wide because of the recession, he calls the loss of the Ford plant the most serious issue. He also says north St. Louis County has had a slower economic recovery than other parts of the region. He says the mall is still a positive moneymaker for the community, but it hasn't been enough to keep the city's budget above the bottom line.

"Quite frankly, our revenue is not keeping up with our expenses," said City Manager Matthew Zimmerman.

And, Zimmerman says the city has made substantial cuts to expenses which include salary and hiring freezes. Now, it's asking voters to restore a seven percent residential utility tax, which was cut back in 1978. It would cost the average taxpayer around $12 per month.

"We think we do a very good job of providing a high level of service. As a city we want to continue to provide a high level of service. Unfortunately it's going to take additional moneys to be able to do that," said Zimmerman.

It's a problem some analysts say they saw coming. And it's one, they say, will strike again somewhere else.

"This 'bigger your neighbor' policy is going to continue until some resident smart person figures out how to keep the retailers from hosing the taxpaying public," said Niemann.

NewsChannel 5 called the St. Louis Outlet Center three times and stopped by in person in an attempt to get a comment, but did not hear back.

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