St. Charles officials criticized a market report outlining the issues facing a stagnant Charlestowne Mall, complaining the information presented contained no new information.
“I haven’t learned anything I didn’t know already,” Alderman Jim Martin complained to John Melaniphy, president of Melaniphy and Associates, the company contracted for the $24,750 market study in April. “You’re telling me we need new owners? Whoopee, we already knew that.”
Martin quipped he was hoping for a recommendation of “blowing up” the mall, which has approximately 100 empty stores, according to Melaniphy’s report.
Likewise Alderman Cliff Carrignan said he was disappointed in the report because he was hoping it would contain information they did not already know. He criticized the presentation for omitting the impact of Internet sales on a matrix outlining declining sales at the mall. He also said the report does not mention competing malls within 10 miles of St. Charles, including Stratford Mall in Bloomingdale.
Addresssing the Planning and Development Committee Monda night, Melaniphy outlined several of the problems facing the mall, including owners who will not invest in the property, the lack of restaurants on the property, and the loss of numerous retail stores, including the vacant Sears space.
The mall owner, a California-based investment group, has been “inactive” in fulfilling on promises made regarding updating and remodeling what has become a “very distressed piece of property,” city officials said in April.
Despite nearly 100 empty storefronts. sales tax receipts show Charlestowne Mall generated sales of $928,802,662 in 2011, down from a high of $991 million in 2006. Melaniphy’s report showed specialty apparel stores performed well in the down economy, while department stores did not show gains in sales. The movie theater at the mall continues to draw large numbers of people, but because there are no restaurants on the property people do not stay in the area, Melaniphy said.
If the current owners sell to an entity willing to invest money into the mall, Melaniphy said the company may approach the city seeking some kind of financial support in revitalizing the mall.
The mall has some advantages including being in an area with household incomes averaging close to $100,000, he said.
Melaniphy’s report outlined several courses of action, including urging the current owners to sell the property to an entity willing to invest in the mall, attract new box-retail stores, such as Abt Electronics or Macys, add a restaurant row on the property and develop multi-family housing behind the mall. If a new large tenant cannot be brought in to fill the empty Sears store, Melaniphy said one solution would be to tear that part of the mall down and regrade it for a stand-alone business.
Melaniphy also said the mall should be renamed.
“Charlestowne now has a negative connotation. It needs to change,” he said.
Alderman Dan Stellato questioned whether or not the city should consider razing the mall and starting over, rather than possibly invest city funds to help potential retailers come to the area, as the report suggested could be a possibility.
“The mall has been broken for 20 years,” Stellato said. “At some point, starting over at the mall may have to be an answer.”
Alderman William Truman also said the city may need to begin looking at the mall as a blank slate for new development. He also said the area does not have a large enough population-base to support reviving the mall.
The discussion of how to address the mall will continue as city officials seek to set up a roundtable discussion with residents to gauge their thoughts on the mall.