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Developer: Build Residential Before Retail in Downtown St. Charles

What do you think: Should Geneva be pushing harder for downtown residential?

An artist’s rendering shows an elevation of Building 1 and Building 2 of Phase 3 of the First Street Redevelopment Project in downtown St. Charles, Ill. | Credit: First Street Development LLC
An artist’s rendering shows an elevation of Building 1 and Building 2 of Phase 3 of the First Street Redevelopment Project in downtown St. Charles, Ill. | Credit: First Street Development LLC

A developer told St. Charles aldermen Monday that downtown residential should be the prior, not retail, in the chicken-and-egg scenario of downtown rebirth.

Robert Rasmussen appeared before aldermen meeting as the City Council Planning and Development Committee to present a revised concept plan for Phase 3 of the First Street project. His presentation came less than a week after he made a similar presentation to the St. Charles Plan Commission.

There was no vote by aldermen — just as there was no vote by plan commissioners on Jan. 7 — since the purpose of the presentation was to elicit official input on the revised plans.

After initial skepticism expressed by aldermen late last year, the committee members appeared more receptive to the plans on Monday, although some still have reservations.

Ward 1 Alderman Ron Silkaitis voiced concern about Rasmussen’s references to office space on the first levels of Buildings 1 and 2, which would be the first to be built under the current plan.

Silkaitis pointed out that the city’s original concept for the First Street Redevelopment was to bring new retailers into the downtown, not the office space envisioned in the plan’s latest rendition.

But Rasmussen pointed to the number of vacant retail space that already exists downtown, adding that more vacancies are likely in the First Street area. The downtown, he said, still lacks the numbers of residents needed not only to attract retailers, but also to ensure their success.

Selling the first level for office space makes sense in the current market, Rasmussen said.

The city approved the planned use development ordinance for the First Street Redevelopment project in 2006, envisioning its construction in five phases on 7.6 acres of property along 1st Street between Prairie and Main streets.

While the first two phases were built from 2007 to 2009, the project has languished ever since, a result of the Great Recession of 2007.

Economic conditions appear to be improving, and the city’s bond indebtedness related to the tax increment financing district for First Street likely is fueling city officials’ desire to see movement on the next phases.

Because market conditions are not what they were in 2006, developers have scaled back the concept plans for Phase 3, which originally was envisioned as four buildings and a parking deck.

The latest concept plan has three buildings — Buildings 1 and 2, adjacent to First Street — would have office space/retail on the first floor, and three floors of studio and two-bedroom apartments on the upper levels. Residences in Building 3, a five-story structure overlooking the Fox River, would be condominiums. The center of the development would be a two-level parking deck to the south and a plaza to the north.

First Street LLC’s next step likely will be to formally request approval of a new planned unit development preliminary plan for Phase 3.

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