Updated at 5 p.m.
Florissant officials are drawing a line on the asphalt parking lot of Plaza Madrid. They want substantial improvements to the stucco plaza's parking lot, and they want it done as part of the Dollar General proposal.
Leasing agent Jeff Eisenberg & Associates proposed putting a Dollar General in at Plaza Madrid, but the proposal includes improvements only to section of the parking lot in front of the store.
Councilman Mark Schmidt, Ward 8, said he wants the entire parking lot to be improved, not just the section in front of the new Dollar General.
“Every meeting I’ve ever had with residents--town hall meetings--the question I always get is, ‘What’s going on with Plaza Madrid? Why does it look so bad?’ " Schmidt said.
“My constituents are tired of dealing with this and tired of looking at this,” he said. “I’m tired of dealing with this. It’s going to happen, and the parking lot is the smallest thing we can do to show that we’re moving forward on this.”
Leasing agent Jeff Eisenberg said the landlord, Kiet Le, wants to upgrade the center, but he first must draw tenants to the center. Dollar General is a key ingredient in that plan, he said.
"It's going to take $1.5 million to re-do that entire shopping center," Eisenberg said. "It's going to be a large re-investment. But lending institutions don't want to see pretty pictures of buildings. They want to see tenants."
Landing Dollar General as a tenant then would draw other tenants to Plaza Madrid, he said. More tenants would give the owner the ability to get financing and re-invest in the center, Eisenberg said.
"We both want the same things," he said. "The city wants the center updated, providing tax revenue and jobs. The landlord wants the income stream, and to make it in today's environment, you have to look good."
Nearby resident Jeff Cook also thought the shopping center should improve the whole parking lot.
“The owner of the plaza needs to keep up its appearance,” Cook said. “If they want people in there paying rent, then they need to maintain their property.”
Cook said he believes the Plaza Madrid’s appearance drags down nearby property values.
“I would like to see Dollar General go in there,” he said. “I’d be in there. We don’t need any more day care centers in there.”
Mayor Robert Lowery also stated that he would not approve the Dollar General plan unless improvements are made to the entire parking lot. Lowery could veto the proposal, assuming the council would approve it.
“I want repaving, I want lighting and I want trees,” Lowery said. “It’s absolutely appalling that we’ve been putting up with this for this long.”
Schmidt stressed that he has nothing against the Dollar General proposal.
“It’s definitely got something to do with the shopping center owner and his stubborn refusal to make improvements to this property,” he said.
Eisenberg said he felt city officials were rough on the shopping center owner. He pointed out that they are working to bring in a retailer that would contibute about $1 million a year in sales.
"The city should be kissing us for trying to work that deal out," Eisenberg said.
Instead, Eisenberg said they are endangering the deal with Dollar General.
"This store was supposed to open in the second quarter. Right now, we'll be lucky to get it in by the third quarter," Eisenberg said. "If they don't get in here, they'll just go to another municipality or another center. Then where will we be?"
The city has made several attempts over the years to improve Plaza Madrid, even offering $10 million in tax-increment financing to the Sansone Group in 2005. Sansone, however, turned down the offer because it wasn’t financially feasible.
Another redevelopment effort fell through in 2008.
“I’ve tried three or four times to get this man to sell to developers and he turned them down each time,” Lowery said. “Now he wants to redo 30 percent of the parking lot? I think it will look worse.”
Schmidt said he had an appointment to meet last week with leasing agent Jeff Eisenberg and the owner, Kiet Le, who is based in Springfield, MO. However, the meeting was canceled due to last week’s snowstorm, and Schmidt said he is still trying to meet with Eisenberg and the Plaza Madrid owner.
During Monday's City Council meeting, Schmidt said that he had spoken to Eisenberg and Le who are discussing plans for the plaza. The council approved Schmidt's request to postpone the second reading of the bill until the Feb. 28 City Council meeting.