The Manchester Corridor in Brentwood, Missouri, is home to many thriving family-owned businesses. Many of the businesses that line Manchester Road have been serving the community for decades. But now, the city is threatening to use its eminent domain power to force these well-loved businesses to close shop so a private developer can make way for new businesses, all in the name of economic development.

The city claims the entire Manchester Corridor is “blighted,” a convenient label it can use to justify taking property by eminent domain. But these properties are not blighted in any sense of the term. They are well maintained, and the businesses provide valuable services to customers in the St. Louis area. None of them have received warnings for the condition of their properties.

Over the past few years, Brentwood undertook a major project, called Brentwood Bound, to mitigate flooding issues and improve access for cars and pedestrians. Brentwood has already used eminent domain to take some properties to complete Brentwood Bound projects. With the bulk of these projects completed, Manchester Corridor business owners were looking forward to an end to the noise, mess, and business disruptions.

Unfortunately, Brentwood has other plans. In July 2023, Brentwood officials approved a redevelopment plan that authorizes it to acquire the properties within the Manchester Corridor and hand them over to a private developer—Green Street. While Missouri law allows the use of eminent domain when taking property is truly necessary for a legitimate public purpose, it prohibits takings for solely economic development purposes. Brentwood attempts to get around this restriction by calling the Corridor blighted. But as anyone who looks at these properties can see, this baseless blight designation is nothing more than a naked attempt to use government power to take private land and give it to a developer.

No business should lose its property just because the government wants to replace it with other, more favored businesses. The owners of a fly-fishing shop, a meal prep business, and a dance studio are now teaming up with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to challenge the baseless blight designations and the proposed takings.

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Brentwood, Missouri Entrepreneurs Have Spent Years Building Their Thriving Businesses

Martin and Anthony George own a building on Manchester Road in Brentwood, Missouri. Their father created the building with his bare hands over 35 years ago. For years, he operated his own small business there, and then left the property to his sons when he passed away. Martin and Anthony watched their father put up the building as children and he personally taught them how to maintain it. This property is part of their family and can’t be replaced with money or a new location somewhere else.

Bob Story is the president of Feather-Craft Fly Fishing. His father founded the business in the 1950s. Since 1989, Feather-Craft has operated in the building downs by the Georges on Manchester Road. The Story family has invested tens of thousands of dollars over the years into keeping their business in this community, and it has worked. What used to occupy only half of Martin and Anthony’s building now takes up the whole space. They also have a thriving online retail store. The location along Manchester Road is perfect for their business’s needs, and they want to stay.

Amy Stanford and Carolyn Wilson are sisters who run a successful meal prep business called Time for Dinner, also located on Manchester Road. The sisters say Time for Dinner is not just a full-time job, but a passion. They’ve been operating there since 2004 and have invested tens of thousands of dollars in refrigeration equipment necessary to maintain and grow their business. Time for Dinner has become a fixture in the community, due in large part to its convenient location. Because of the investments they’ve made and the success they’ve had, the sisters want to keep their business going exactly where it is.

Roxanne and Carter Maier own Convergence Dance and Body Center, also located on Manchester Road. Here, they offer dance classes, fitness classes, and chiropractic care. They’ve been in business at this location for the last five years and have invested over $100,000 in customizing the space for their business’s unique needs. They too have been able to build a thriving business and their students and clients enjoy the convenience of their current location. They also want to stay exactly where they are.

But Brentwood has other plans for the area, and it is planning to shut down these thriving, long-standing, locally owned family businesses to accomplish them.

Brentwood’s Redevelopment Plan and Baseless Blight Designations

In 2018, concerned with the occasional flooding from Deer Creek, Brentwood initiated a multimillion-dollar flood mitigation project. Brentwood’s plans, known as Brentwood Bound, included improvements to sewer lines, redoing Manchester Road, expanding sidewalks, and adding a bike path that connects to the greater network of St. Louis-area bike paths. Since 2020, the Manchester Corridor has been largely under construction, affecting traffic to area businesses.

All of the major projects are now completed. Businesses like Feather-Craft, Time for Dinner, and Convergence were excited to welcome their customers back and to make long-awaited improvements to their businesses. But now, with the Brentwood Bound projects largely finished, Brentwood has set its sights on a new project. Without sufficient notice to or input from property owners or area businesses, Brentwood sought to establish a “redevelopment plan.” This time, however, the plan was not to take the properties for flood mitigation or for general infrastructure improvements, but to turn the land over to a private developer. Brentwood has a vision for the Manchester Corridor, and it simply does not include these long-standing businesses.

Instead of considering whether the properties in the Manchester Corridor pose any true health or safety threats, Brentwood is using an expansive definition of blight, applying it to anything that does not look how it thinks it should. Brentwood relied on a 2023 blight study that cites routine conditions such as a need for a coat of fresh paint on some of the properties, or a need for window repair—conditions that are easily fixable and certainly do not constitute a menace to public health or a danger to life or property. Moreover, the studies do not specify which properties along the Manchester Corridor suffer from these conditions.

And businesses like Feather-Craft, Time for Dinner, and Convergence Dance and Body Center have none of these problems. Quite the opposite. In the past five years alone, Martin and Anthony have invested over $100,000 in maintenance and updates of their building on Manchester Road, including siding, roofing, window tinting, and black topping the parking lot. The Maiers were looking forward to making improvements on Convergence Dance and Body Center’s parking lot too—once the construction equipment was out of the way. To the extent any other properties look a little run-down, this is likely a result of Brentwood’s actions. Property owners haven’t been able to lease or remodel their properties while the Brentwood Bound projects were ongoing.

Regardless, subjective views of “attractiveness” cannot provide a basis for governments to declare an entire area blighted, paving the way for them to use their eminent domain power to force thriving businesses out of the community. If that can happen to successful businesses in Brentwood, Missouri, it can happen anywhere.

Businesses and Property Owners Team Up with IJ To Fight Back

Martin, Anthony, Bob, Amy, Carolyn, Roxanne, and Carter are all fighting back against Brentwood’s unlawful redevelopment plan that threatens the livelihood of the businesses they’ve worked so hard for. Like all small business owners, their businesses are a result of their blood, sweat, and tears. They can’t imagine just walking away. Instead, they’ve teamed up with IJ to file claims in Missouri state court, challenging the bogus blight designation and the pretextual justification for taking their property and businesses.

These business owners want to send a message to Brentwood and to other cities: government power can’t be used to destroy businesses that a city simply doesn’t like. Cities can’t pretend properties are blighted just to clear the way for economic development.

Missouri Law Prohibits Eminent Domain Solely for Private Development

Brentwood proposes handing these properties over to a private developer to pave the way for what they consider to be more “attractive” uses. But the Missouri Constitution does not allow local governments to use eminent domain just for economic development. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in Kelo v. City of New London, which upheld a city’s use of eminent domain solely for economic development, states like Missouri amended their laws to prohibit such takings.

In an attempt to circumvent this important statutory protection for property rights in Missouri, Brentwood makes other baseless arguments to support its blight finding. For instance, the city’s blight study supposes that—even after the city invested millions of dollars on flood mitigation related construction projects along Manchester Road—the Corridor might still flood once every 500 years. For that reason, Brentwood asserts that the businesses along the Corridor are unsafe and should be subjected to eminent domain for area wide redevelopment. But this is nonsensical. Brentwood cannot claim that a corridor they spent four years and $120 million improving is still so unsafe that these businesses cannot continue to operate. A hypothetical flood is simply not a good enough reason to justify taking property and closing businesses—particularly when it has publicly said it wants to welcome more “attractive” businesses to the Corridor.

Furthermore, the blight study also admits that redevelopment is necessary to increase Brentwood’s tax revenue. This lays bare Brentwood’s true motive—economic development to increase its tax base. But the state of Missouri has already decided that this would be an impermissible use of eminent domain power.

The Litigation Team

The Brentwood business owners are represented by IJ Attorneys Bob Belden, and Litigation Fellow Bobbi Taylor.

The Institute for Justice

The Institute for Justice (IJ) is a nonprofit, public interest law firm that defends property nationwide. IJ represented Susette Kelo and other homeowners in New London, Connecticut, to save their homes from being demolished due to abuse of eminent domain in the now infamous Kelo v. New London. Following Kelo, and largely due to IJ’s efforts, 47 states have strengthened their protections against eminent domain abuse, either through legislation or state supreme court decisions. IJ will be arguing at the Supreme Court this term in DeVillier v. Texas, a case about a family farm flooded out following highway renovations. IJ is currently defending Mississippi property owners who are fighting a city’s bogus blight designations and homeowners in Georgia who are being threatened with eminent domain for a private railway.