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St. Charles Looks to Charlestowne Mall Area's Future

Residents gathered in St. Charles City Hall on Thursday night to brainstorm ideas for the East Side mall — both with and without the retail development.

Can Charlestowne Mall be retrofitted and restored to its former glory, or should the entire site be redeveloped into something new?

Those were the scenarios oresented Thursday night as about 48 people turned out to the St. Charles City Council Chambers to consider — or vision — the future of the mall area on the city’s East Side.

Many ideas flowed freely during the meeting — representatives of Houseal Lavigne Associates, the city’s consultants for drawing up a citywide comprehensive plan told attendees to “think big” — yet for all the different faces and ideas floating around the room there seemed to be some common threads, particularly in terms of the types of businesses residents said should be recruited into the area.

What was touted as a visioning process was just that. Representatives of Houseal Lavigne Associates, the company working with the city to develop a comprehensive plan to guide development in St. Charles for the next 20 years, divided those attending the meeting into eight groups of five people each to consider two scenarios for the mall area.

The first: What should the Charlestowne Mall and the area around it look like in the future — considering everything from architectural styles to the types of businesses that would locate there.

The second: Start with a clean slate — what would the area look like if the mall were removed and the area was to be completely redeveloped.

For all the differences represented among the varied individuals in the room, there were a number of remarkably common threads in both scenarios:

Make the mall more quaint, with a small-town feel.

Feature retailers such as Pinstripe Bowling, Rainforest Cafe, Macy’s, among others.

Walkability was mentioned a number of times, as was a focus on drawing in businesses that do not exist in the Tri-Cities.

Several groups also wanted to open up parts of the mall — to create some open-air walkways allowing more entries to the facility. Fountains and waterfalls were suggested, as was a water park.

Each group also was given about 60 photos of various types of residential and commercial development from all over the United States. Their assignment: Pick out the kinds of features they would like to see in the area.

The goal, for city officials, is to come up with a plan for the future of the Charlestowne Mall and its surroundings — it is an area where city officials acknowledged they have little influence with the property owners.

Second Ward Alderman Cliff Carrignon, along with Alderwoman Rita Anne Payleitner, also of the 2nd Ward, said pointedly, “Charlestowne Mall is a key producer for the city’s economics. The last thing we want to envision is a dead mall. …”

Yet he also indicated optimism about the future with the residents involved in the planning. While the city does not have “a lot of leverage with the mall owners … we need to bring a vision from the entire community. It’s vital to the city of St. Charles, and we want to see it thrive.”

But the mall is only one part of a much larger plan. Thursday night’s visioning session was one in a long series of workshops and brainstorming sessions with an eye toward the city’s future. The visioning process already has been held for St. Charles’ downtown and West Side areas.

The Charlestowne Mall area was separated out for its own visioning process, said St. Charles Planning Division Manager Russell Colby. The reason, he said, is that the mall is having such difficulty.

In the spring, the mall’s vacancy rate, excluding its anchor stores, was estimated at more than 80 percent.

In the coming weeks and months, Houseal and Lavinge Associates will work with the community to pull all the ideas into what officials intend to be a comprehensive master plan that, once adopted, with be the city’s policy for guiding new development throughout the area.

Long before it gets to that point, however, the consultants will return in about six weeks to host an open house, similar to the one held last week, when residents reviewed the results of the visioning process for downtown St. Charles and the Randall Road area.

Devin Lavigne, a principal with Houseal Laigne Associates, said his firm will work with the city’s comprehensive plan committee to distill Thursday night’s work into the major themes and two concepts for the Charlestowne Mall area and present them during the next open house.

The effort is part of the process whose goal is a 20-year comprehensive plan, a policy document that, once adopted by the City Council, will be used as a guide for the city’s future development.

Editor's note: Alderman Cliff Carrignon, along with Alderwoman Rita Anne Payleitner initially were identified as representing the 5th Ward.

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Kim August 11, 2012 at 01:17 PM
I understand the trend to have open air malls and such, but I always liked Charlestowne. It was easy to shop, had a pretty good food court, and I put the kids on the carousel many times when they were little. I still go to Carson's and Von Maur I hope that it doesn't go the route of Geneva Commons, as I like being inside to shop.
Vanessa Bell-LaSota August 12, 2012 at 02:28 AM
Classic Cinema,Carson's, Kohl's and Von Maur own their buildings, as such, are safe. Classic recently invested over 1M upgrading their facility, so they are'nt going anywhere. The rise of internet commerce has dealt a huge blow to small retail,big box and indoor malls. Stores with an internet component like WalMart, have survived the trend. The housing market, we all know, is still depressed, and county & municipal growth over the past 10-15 years has not met expectations voiced 20 years ago- Kane has revised it's projections. Where are the shoppers? On Randall Road, buying in Geneva, Batavia and South Elgin. The Red Gate bridge will soon help east side residents get there a little quicker, bypassing our downtown businesses. Noone is "yelling" at the owners. They are simply not responding to contact from the City; even their RE management have minimal interaction, save basic orders. West Coast investor/ownership have said nothing about their plans, other than the Sushi restaurant signage on display already in the mall, which has been there for some time. They bought a mall of identical size in Cupertino, CA. Google it's history, what they tried, & current state and draw your own conclusions. One thing is sure-there is strategy in everything- someone knows exactly what they have, in Charlstowne Mall.
frank loisi September 29, 2012 at 08:41 PM
How does towns like geneva and oakbrook have great shopping areas and st charles is turning into a wasteland. charlestown mall was a great place before. now its is a movie theater khols and von maur. all are great places to go. st charles has alot of tax revenue along with industry. geneva has no industry and has the geneva commans. what we get is a good will and a savers. come on!!! st charles should reflect the price of living there.
The Batman November 27, 2012 at 09:21 PM
First off, what to do with the property is NOT for the city nor its residents to decide! That property is owned by someone else and the rightful owners will decide its fate. Until the owners sell out the property to the city if that ever happens nobody has any business to decide.
josephine s. November 27, 2012 at 10:05 PM
Holy Cow, Batman, where have you been? Listening to Robin's take on urban development? A municipality has an obligation to it's taxpaying residents to steward the use of their resources, and land is primary among them. Land use drives quality of life and economic growth. Quoting our Kane County 2040 Plan: "the most important thing that a municipality can do...is to take this responsibility (land use decisions) very seriously. This requires a local commitment to proactive planning...incl. an up-to-date comprehensive plan,ordinances and other regulations ...and trained decision-makers-primarily plan commissioners and local elected officials-who fully understand the impacts of their land use decisions.". You are wrong. It is an organic, cooperative-and I said, "cooperative" process in the year 2012. Mr Potter gave it a shot in the 40's, but even he had to listen to the residents.

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