The outlet mall: once a bustling hive of shoppers enjoying a day at the Lake, the now-too-quiet retail center was the subject of an impassioned public hearing and vote on Monday evening at Osage Beach City Hall.
There, the city’s TIF commission heard public comment about a proposed financing plan for a massive plan to redevelop the mall into a mixed-use center containing retail, multi-family residential units, entertainment, and possibly a hotel. Developers—locally-owned Horizon Development and well-known Kansas City developer Legacy Development—have not publicly revealed the details of their plans, but they estimate spending $186 million to do it.
They’ve asked the city for a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) agreement, which consists of bonds issued by the city (which the city would not be responsible for paying, should the project fail), and various other tax incentives. Those combined with private capital are the means by which the developers plan to finance the project. But before they buy the mall from Simon (which currently owns and operates the mall), they say they must have a TIF plan approved by the city. The developers have presented letters from financiers, indicating willingness to participate in financing the project, pending approval of the TIF.
Monday’s TIF Commission meeting, brought a nearly full house of citizens interested in the ongoing TIF discussion. The meeting was attended by TIF Commission members, Alderman Tyler Becker, Gail Griswold, James Gohagen, Greg Hasty, Dan Fry, Geniece Tyler, Dave Crane and Fred Catcott and Fire Chief Paul Berardi. Brian Butts and Brad Rozier were both absent. After hearing public comment unanimously in support of the TIF, the commission voted unanimously to recommend the City Board of Aldermen approve the TIF. The Board’s next meeting will take place this Thursday, June 16.
Overwhelming community support
Speakers representing both development groups spoke on their history and previous developments in the area, including Rock Island Village Assisted Living by Horizon Development and national mall developments by Legacy Development.
The developers also spoke about the few stores that still remain at the mall; the mall can hold up to 110 stores, but currently only 27 are in operation.
They also spoke about their vision for the mall, mentioning a zip-line course, outdoor dining, hiking trails, scenic lighting and affordable housing, along with expanding the retail brands represented at the mall.
“We have had interest from a number of national brands that aren’t currently here that would like to be here,” said Chris Foster, of Horizon Development.
During the developers’ presentation, there was a brief disagreement amid apparent confusion over whether or not the board intended to vote on the TIF that same evening. TIF Commission member Gail Griswold initially opposed the idea of voting at Tuesday’s meeting, which prompted members of the audience to ask why voting was on the agenda if the commission did not intend to vote. The developers emphasized the importance of taking the vote that day, as any delay would put the project in jeopardy. The property has been under contract for many months, but developers have expressed their worry that continued delays in the financing approval process could result in the contract expiring, thus ending the opportunity for this development.
That question being resolved, public comment brought unanimous support for the possible TIF, with most of the comments coming from current employees of mall retailers speaking in support of saving the mall (and speaking on the importance of the insurance benefits that mall stores provide for workers). Other citizens spoke of their love for the mall and their hope that the commission would support its redevelopment.
“I absolutely love my job. I would love to see this project happen because, if it doesn’t, I will lose my job and I will have to move far away and I don’t want to do that, I love Lake of the Ozarks and I want to stay here,” said the store manager of Journey’s.
Some employees spoke on the verge of tears about their jobs and their stores; many also spoke about their fear that if nothing was done, the mall would continue to fall into disrepair and eventually close completely.
David Morgan, director of operations at the mall, provided a sobering perspective. “I’ve been here four years, and I’ve shut down half that mall,” he said. “I’ve had to shut down the lights and watch ladies cry. It’s going to shut down and I can say that with some certainty. I’m just letting you know that this is going to impact people.”
The commission also took 50 letters of support into account.
In a letter submitted by real estate broker Mark Beeler, who is facilitating the pending transaction between the development group and Simon, Beeler wrote, “[Simon] has made it very clear, that f thus does not close by the end of the month it is ‘Unlikely the mall will continue operations as it is today. The mall is not in their long range plan and will not be reinvesting in the mall.’ So the likelihood of the mall ceasing operations in the event the TIF is not approved are highly likely.”
Dan Foster, of Horizon Development, is one of the most prolific condo developers in Missouri and well-known in the Lake area. Foster spoke clearly to the crowd and commission, saying, “Osage Beach has a problem and we need to do something about this. This contract ends June 29th, we need to do something now. We can’t wait… They [Simon] told us we’re not going to get an extension.”
He closed, saying, “If you look for the good in things, you’ll find it, if you look for the bad things, you’ll find it. Let’s look for the good things.” That was met by a round of applause from those in attendance.
TIF Commission member Greg Hasty asked for a show of hands among those in the room who supported the TIF. The room was filled with raised hands. When Hasty asked for anyone against the TIF to raise their hand, none were raised.
With a unanimous vote of support from the TIF Commission, the decision about whether to approve the TIF plan now goes to the Osage Beach Board of Aldermen. Action on the TIF was not on the board’s agenda as of June 10.