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The final days of Crestwood Plaza

<p>Its legacy will not be forgotten</p>

Joel Hulsey

Joel Hulsey, KSDK-TV

For Lexi Eckenstein, Crestwood Court's charm wasn't in the diversity of options to shop from at the mall, but rather the memories spent with those she loves.

"One of my favorite things at the mall was the carousel they had near the Dillard's," said Eckenstein. "It didn't have to do with what we were buying, it was just a place we could go to be together."

From buying pretzels with her mother at Aunt Annie's, to going on scavenger hunts with friends, Crestwood Court was as much a friend as those with whom she visited. Although those storefronts slowly emptied over the years, she fondly remembers the warm memories associated with the enclosed shopping mall.

Originally built as Crestwood Plaza in 1957, the then open-air shopping center was the first major mall in the St. Louis region. It preceded several St. Louis area malls; Northwest Plaza came six years after, opening in 1963; Jamestown Mall arrived 16 years later, opening in 1973; and The Galleria landed in Richmond Heights 27 years after Crestwood Court, opening in 1984.

One last look inside Crestwood Court.

Business from competing shopping malls was the reason for expanding and revamping Crestwood Court throughout the years, including its enclosure in 1984. But it wasn't until the mall neared the end of its tenure that it faced its own trials and tribulations.

Still, Crestwood Court was a highlight to many, including Eckenstein and her family.

"A lot of my good memories from childhood are from there. We did our Christmas shopping there. My mom and grandma and I would always go there and shop together."

No matter how far the drive, Crestwood Court quickly became the premiere shopping destination for many in the St. Louis area. In its prime, 157 stores occupied the mall, as well as three anchor stores - Macy's (formerly Famous-Barr's), Sears and Dillard's. Dillard's had its own restaurant on the third floor to attract more customers.

One last look inside Crestwood Court.

With struggling sales to blame, Dillard's closed in 2007, followed by Macy's in 2009, and Sears in 2012. Plans marched forward in 2008 for an arts-themed lifestyle center called ArtSpace to breathe new life into the mall. But tenants of the attempted revamp had their leases cut short early into 2012, leaving doubts about Crestwood's future.

Finding nothing else to fall back on after ArtSpace could not turn a profit, Crestwood Court closed its doors for good in July of 2013. By the time Crestwood Court was closed to the public, the mall was home to more mall walkers than those looking to purchase anything. However, LensCrafters stayed as the last remaining storefront. It eventually shuttered in September, 2013.

For over a year, the former shopping mall sat empty, without a legitimate plan of action. Redevelopment plans were proposed, but none could not find its footing. Crestwood city officials continued finding themselves asking, "What do we do with Crestwood Court?"

It wasn't until May of 2014 that UrbanStreet Group, a Chicago-based real estate group, purchased the property.

With help from the City of Crestwood, UrbanStreet Group looked to make redevelopment of Crestwood Court more than just a pipe dream. Speaking at a community gathering highlighting the future of the former shopping mall, Crestwood Mayor Gregg Roby said his primary goal as mayor when taking office was to renew Crestwood Court.

And renewal is what both groups would get.

Both the City of Crestwood and UrbanStreet Group faced stiff backlash from the Lindbergh School District, however. Citing concern over the proposal of living facilities on the site, Lindbergh School District was weary to accept proposals to move forward with the proposed redevelopment.

In February, Crestwood's TIF Commission voted in favor of a $15 million tax incentive, covering only the demolition and preparation of the future site. A separate $5 million in tax dollars will be dedicated to community improvement, and another $5 million in tax dollars will go to the condition of roads and streets on the future site. In total, the $25 million tax proposal plan was unanimously approved by Crestwood's Board of Alderman in March, paving the way for demolition to begin.

One last look inside Crestwood Court.

Pamela Wucher, Project Manager of the Crestwood Court redevelopment project with UrbanStreet Group, only sees positives for their $104 million project.

"TIF is just a way of incentivizing something that then shares in that financial burden with the community who's really going to benefit in the end," said Wucher.

With its giant price tag and 47 acres, Wucher says it was not financially feasible for any one person to privately take on the entire project. And now that tenants know the project is real, she says they're becoming much more serious about signing with them for the future. In fact, other retailers in Crestwood appear to be interested in the growth the Crestwood Court revitalization aims to bring to fruition.

One last look inside Crestwood Court.

"Just by this being a go, we've seen an uptick in interest on some of the other commercial properties."

Wucher and UrbanStreet Group envision the redevelopment of Crestwood Court to begin bringing Crestwood back to its former glory.

Demolition is expected to take anywhere from eight to ten months, beginning with tearing down the multi-level parking garage. Once everything is demolished, construction will begin on the future site, expected to take 24 to 30 months to be completed.

In celebration of the project, the City of Crestwood threw a final hurrah, a goodbye party, on the parking lot of the mall in April, with large crowds attending. Wucher says many people told them they walked and biked to the mall to give their final condolences, something Wucher says shows the commitment Crestwood residents have to their community.

They say all good things must come to an end, and as fate would have it, the same is speaking true with Crestwood Court. Although the former shopping mall sits as a ghost of it once was, its legacy will not be forgotten. Memories of the mall are long from far and few between, but don't discount the reaction to the long goodbye as petty.

Eckenstein says she believes the Crestwood Plaza legacy will not be forgotten. In part, she feels the demolition of the shopping mall is less of a physical embodiment as it is more of what used to be.

"I don't think it really struck with a lot of St. Louisans until the talk of changing the mall and demolishing it and building something else came to fruition," said Eckenstein, "It isn't really real that it isn't there anymore until it's slowly not there anymore."