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, which together with another parcel there, he and Robert Elkan, a developer with the Westmore Group Realty Group, wanted to turn into a QuickTrip and a restaurant, along with the potential for a Hampton Inn.
That was 3 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.
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."
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."