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 consultants who recently spearheaded , 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 now working with St. Charles to develop a comprehensive plan to guide development in Geneva's nieghbor to the north 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? The community was asked to consider 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.
Fifth Ward Alderman Cliff Carrignon, along with Alderwoman Rita Anne Payleitner, also of the 5th 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 St. Charles City Council, will be used as a guide for the city’s future development.