5/08/2006

Developer turns to eminent domain for Hazelwood business park: St Louis (MO) Post-Dispatch, 3/16/06

By Eric Heisler

The developer of a 200-acre business park in Hazelwood is clashing with a handful of small business owners who stand in the way of the $250 million project.

Hazelwood Commerce Center is set to rise in a troubled area just northwest of Lambert Field.

McEagle Development of O’Fallon, Mo., has acquired most of the property at the site.

But six years into the project, McEagle is in court using eminent domain in an attempt to buy out a group of businesses.

“We don’t want to move,” said Susan Woltering, president of Select Drink Inc., a beverage distributor whose property Mc Eagle is attempting to acquire. “But if we have to move, we want just compensation.”

Under a condemnation ruling made in December by a courtappointed commission, McEagle could acquire the group of properties for between $5 million and $6 million.

But neither side thinks that’s a good deal, and both the developer and businesses have appealed. The matter now will go to a jury, unless a settlement is reached.

Hazelwood Commerce Center has been in the planning stages for more than two decades. The land is part of the former Robertson area, a black neighborhood that mostly was cleared in airport buyouts in the 1980s.

St. Louis County has been eyeing the site for new industry since the 1980s, but planning for an airport expansion held up the process.

McEagle was selected by Hazelwood to develop the site in 2000 and now plans to build distribution or light manufacturing buildings.

McEagle has bought much of the property through condemnation.

But an auto shop, a restaurant and other small businesses remain on the area’s eastern edge.

McEagle wants the land because it represents an entrance to Hazelwood Commerce Center. For Select Drink, that creates a problem. The company was founded at 5401 Lindbergh Bouldevard in the 1970s by Woltering’s father.

“As it stands, we’re going to have to go into debt to build or acquire a new building,” Woltering said.

McEagle initially offered Select Drink $25,000 for the land, and gradually upped its offer to $375,000, said Robert Denlow, an attorney representing the businesses. Select Drink believes the land is worth more.

A court-appointed commission agreed. In December, the commission ruled McEagle should pay $1.6 million for the property.

Because both sides have appealed, a jury trial is being set to determine a final price.

Meanwhile, the developer and property owners continue to negotiate.

“I think everyone would like to avoid the cost and expense of a trial,” said Paul Puricelli, an attorney
for McEagle.

Puricelli said McEagle has been fair to the property owners.

“We saved these properties for last to give them as much time as possible to prepare for the move,” he said.

McEagle, he said, could begin to develop the site before the matter is decided because it owns most of the properties on the western portion of the project area.


St Louis Post-Dispatch: http://www.stltoday.com