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Center Has the “Blight” Stuff for Aid
by Ron Davis
Local government assistance will help to pay the rehabbing of a privately owned Missouri shopping center despite intense opposition by a competing shopping center and a group of neighboring taxpayers.
Receiving the assistance is West County Center, a two-anchor-store property located in the St. Louis suburb of Des Peres. After careful study, Des Peres city officials agreed to provide financing aid to the center’s owners. The goal, they say, is to expand the center because it is “a blighted area.”
Opposing such aid are the owners of Chesterfield Mall and a number of local citizens. They contend that such aid to West County Center is illegal and unfair. They argue that despite its designation as a blighted area, West County Center has won recognition as Des Peres’ single greatest economic asset. They add that such recognition precludes a finding that it is an economic liability.
Experts found, however, that West County Center was not keeping its value relative to neighboring, similarly situated and similarly used properties. Moreover, evidence showed that sales had recently declined at the center (with a corresponding drop in sales tax revenue for the city).
The experts also concluded that a two-anchor “dumbbell” shopping center like West County Center is obsolete and, without redevelopment, West County Center would accelerate into a downward spiral and eventually not survive as a regional shopping center.
Under Missouri law, the courts cannot intervene in the decision of a legislative body unless that decision is arbitrary or induced by fraud, collusion or bad faith or unless that body exceeds its powers.
In allowing the financing assistance, a Missouri appellate court explained, “The decision by city officials was within its powers and was neither arbitrary nor induced by fraud, collusion, or bad faith. The officials consulted a wide variety of independent sources. These sources led them to conclude that the shopping center, in its present condition, is an economic liability to the city in that it offers a limited shopping experience leading to a decline in growth and revenue. We will not substitute our judgment for theirs if the decision as to blighting is fairly debatable. We find that it is.” (JG St. Louis West Limited Liability Company v. City of Des Peres, 41 S.W.3d 513)
Decision: April 2003
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