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News Nearby: Developer Slams Olivette, Calls City 'Anti-Progress'

A Creve Coeur-based developer says he's pulled out of plans to build a gas station and restaurant on Olive at I-170. U City and Olivette are looking to jointly redevelop the I-170/Olive corridor.

Steve Noles says he knows something about dealing with difficult cities on development projects.

Noles, the owner of Noles Properties, a Creve Coeur-based firm, has developed shopping centers like the Shoppes at Questover (think La Salsa), Park West Square (home of the new Rothman Mattress outlet), and had a hand in the Walgreens which opened at Olive and Graeser in the spring of 2011.

But within the last few months, he's decided he's had enough with the city of Olivette.

Noles purchased a parcel of land at the intersection of Olive Boulevard and Interstate 170 from the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT), which together with another parcel there, he and Robert Elkan, a developer with the Westmore Group Realty Group, wanted to turn into a QuikTrip and a restaurant, along with the potential for a Hampton Inn.

That was three years ago. After meetings and promises, and money spent on site plans and surveys, Noles said he decided to drop his share of the project two months ago.

"They're not worth doing business with anymore," Noles said in a recent phone conversation where he said longtime members of city council were 'anti-progress,' and that he could "never get a fair shake out of them."

"Nobody wants to do business there, they're so difficult," he said. Elkan said Wednesday he's been in talks with QuickTrip and others, but is regrouping until after the first of the year.

City Audit

The city's annual audit recently presented to council reflected the struggles Olivette faces like other cities struggling in the economic downturn.

  • Declining sales tax receipts in all categories due to loss of local businesses, lack of consumer confidence, and the general economic slowdown creating strong fiscal pressure on City operating funds primarily dependent on sales tax. 
  • A persistent unfavorable vacancy rate for retail and commercial businesses.

It added that the "City's ambitious long-range redevelopment goals and other development opportunities have been delayed due to lack of interest or capacity from the development community, lack of realistic financing sources for new development, and the persistent caution of developers and lenders in pursuing new development or expansion in the uncertain economic climate."

Olivette Councilwoman Missy Waldman, who Noles cited by name in his criticism, and City Manager Mike McDowell said Tuesday night that despite those continuing conversations over time, the project in question has never been formally submitted for consideration.

Elkan, who served as a Planning and Zoning Chairman in Town and Country in the 1980s and 1990s, said Olivette officials have used that justification before. But with a series of moves to re-write zoning codes over the years, and a lack of willingness on the part of city officials to at least informally suggest that it is worth a developer spending hundreds of thousands more dollars necessary to put together a formal plan, he said his project is at a standstill.

"We're not sure what the heck the city's doing," Elkan said.

The comments from the developers come at a time when Olivette city leaders are trying to confront how to make Olivette "developer-friendly," as Mayor Arthur Merdinian put it during Tuesday's City Council meeting.

Council members said some on Olivette's Planning and Community Design Commission, which is charged with writing and interpreting the city's zoning code, have complained to them in recent months about changes made at the council level regarding text of zoning code.

A meeting may or may not take place next month between the two bodies to talk in some fashion about what sort of expectations there are about a direction for handling design requests. That in itself is tricky, because the two panels are designed by law to operate on their own and there is some concern that any formal "direction" dictated by council could violate state statutes.

"We want the rules to encourage developers to bring ideas to us," Mayor Merdinian said Tuesday, in broad strokes.

Don't count on those ideas coming from Noles, who told Patch by email Wednesday, "Professional Developers that build quality neighborhood projects, do not do business with anti development anti progress cities like Olivette. We have better opportunities from other cities that are more progressive and forward thinking. Olivette is stuck in a time warp."

Rod Jennings December 07, 2012 at 02:16 PM
How come Mr. Noles cant work with and within the scope of plans of the University City Olivette Joint Development Task Force? As they will need a developer that shares their vision he can accomplish his goal and assist those communities in their goal for development of a larger tract of land at Olive and I170. Take a look at the tentative plans for mixed use development, mixed income housing, shops, amphitheatre, walking and bike trails, hotels, restaurants and a metrolink station. Developers tend to tell communities what they want, must do and demand and expect TIF credits building on their vision. I commend Olivette and UCity for taking the lead to build a sustainable long term innovative development that considers the future viability of both communities and their citizens. Developers make money off communities, but I sense Olivette and UCity are interested in developers that want to jointly build a innovative community project with variety, exclusivness, stability, function, sustainability, and something for everyone to enjoy and use. Mr. Noles, if you lick them, join them. Respectfully Yours Rod Jennings
Stanford Carp December 07, 2012 at 03:19 PM
Your grandchildren will be dead and buried before University City and Olivette get their act together on any I170 project. Both cities are dysfunctional.
Rod Jennings December 07, 2012 at 04:47 PM
Its up to us to stop that dysfunction. We really need to stop playing politics and catering to developers that want to develop profits and not communities. How many of those small town Walmart grand openings are now big box ghost towns after the TIFS ran out. How many large projects in the city of St. Louis have hurt their finances because of the slew of tax credits given out over the last 20 years. The developers are even bundling and selling tax credits on the open market. That was future revenue where they may have given too much away not expecting economy to bad as well. I believe we have to attack recession, poverty and development with a realistic attempt at inclusion, spreading the money around, forecasting and spending wisely and I have to be concerned about the futures of your grandchildren as well as you being concerned about my grandchildren. How can you contribute to the potential success of Olive I170 redevelopment? You obviously have some insight and wisdom that could stop this dysfunction if two cities. Again, I commend the cities for trying to break the mold and share resources. Here is a fact I am proud of.
Rod Jennings December 07, 2012 at 04:48 PM
The task force is against using blighting and imminient domain to get enough land for large development, but actually talked about land swapping to keep residents in the community. They are pushing for mixed income housing and commercial business to support housing and attract tourist like internet cafes, fitness centers, branches of universities, corporate headquarters close to business incubators, A centrally located hotel, and a park n ride metrolink station. Not as much big box warehouse development and no pawn shops, payday loans business, or used car lots in this Joint Development District.
Helen M December 08, 2012 at 01:25 PM
The article sad that was the very kind of a development a mixed use with a Hampton hotel .. have you ever tried to deal with planning in U City or even any of the inspectors. They are poster children for dysfunctional. Even your summary shows how unrealistic those items are. fitness , the U City fitness rec center is what a mile away; what college would need to build a branch, UMSL itself is not far up Midland/Hanley, Wash U is in U City; what internet cafes, there are already McDonalds and coffee cafes right over there. How is a park n ride station going to generate tax revenue ?

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