St. Charles aldermen debate Charlestowne Mall redevelopment plans

Charlestowne Mall in St. Charles.

St. Charles aldermen debated Jan. 10 whether razing the majority of the largely vacant Charlestowne Mall to make way for 560 apartments and townhouses, a hotel and new restaurants and retail along East Main Street is the best plan for the site.

Plans also include a food truck park, a public plaza with seating and an amphitheater, a partially enclosed gazebo and an ice cream stand. Aldermen reviewed the latest plans for the 81-acre property at the City Council’s Planning and Development Committee meeting.

The partnership of S.R. Jacobson Development Corp. and Lormax Stern Development Co. have entered into a purchase agreement for the former Charlestowne Mall property with owners The Krausz Companies. In December 2017, Krausz Companies closed the interior shops and enclosed mall space at the center.

Anchors Von Maur and Classic Cinemas Charlestowne 18 remain in the mall.

Plans call for retaining Classic Cinemas and Von Maur and demolishing the other mall buildings. In their place, 351 apartments in nine three-story buildings would be built along with 209 rental townhouses in two-story buildings.

The nearby Cooper’s Hawk restaurant and the Starbucks/Verizon building also would be retained. The proposal calls for 40,700 square feet of new commercial development along Main Street, as well as a 135-room hotel on the site’s west side.

“The mixed-used redevelopment plan for the Charlestowne Mall can be summarized as the creation of an urban shopping and dining entertainment district integrated with residential neighborhoods,” Manny Kianicky, with S.R. Jacobson Development Corp., told aldermen. “This urban district is anchored at one end by the existing Starbucks and at the other end by the existing cinema.”

He said the public plaza would be the focal point for the entire district.

“It will be perfect for festivals or just as an interesting place to hang out,” Kianicky said. “An outdoor amphitheater will be incorporated in the plaza design to provide for community events, such as summer concerts.”

Third Ward Alderman Todd Bancroft had several concerns about the plan, including that it is divided into three separate quadrants – the retail quadrant, the townhouse quadrant and the apartment quadrant.

“Your solution was to put a bunch of stuff in between the three quadrants and none of that stuff is particularly interesting,” he said. “It’s not very interesting to me that you’re going to have food trucks, which are not going to be there in the winter. It’s not very interesting to me that you’re doing a bandshell, which probably isn’t going to be used in the winter. So most of that is going to be dead space, probably for seven or eight months out of the year. The plan is not interesting.”

Other aldermen voiced concerns about the project’s density. Kianicky said he didn’t understand why aldermen are so concerned about the project’s density in light of the Prairie Centre project on the city’s west side. The project was built on the site of the former St. Charles Mall.

“In Prairie Centre, the city approved 670 units on 27 acres,” he said. “So we’re not sure why this density issue is coming up.”

Second Ward Alderman Rita Payleitner spoke in favor of the plans. She noted other plans to redevelop the mall have been abandoned.

“I’ve seen and heard so many options attempted, discussed and ultimately not come to fruition,” she said. “Is this a dream come true plan? Maybe not. But this is a good plan. It presents workable options, considering the very realistic challenges the site presents.”

Kianicky said the developers need city officials to support the plans in order for the project to be successful.

“At best this is a difficult, extraordinarily expensive project and without everyone pulling in the same direction, it has no chance of success,” he said.

Kianicky said the challenge is to figure out how to redevelop the mall in an economically feasible way that pays for a portion of the project costs while maintaining the existing commercial uses during reconstruction and satisfying the city’s desires for something that will serve the needs of the residents of St. Charles.

He estimated the cost of demolition and reconstruction of site improvements at $35 million. The developers plan to initially foot the bill for those costs.

But to make the project financially feasible, a tax increment financing district will have to be put in place, he said.

“A tax increment financing district must be established so that a portion of the huge increase in taxes that will result from redevelopment will be applied to the cost of demolition and the reconstruction of site improvements that are necessary to accommodate new uses for the property,” Kianicky said. “This is exactly the purpose for which TIFs were created. Without a TIF, the redevelopment of the mall is not financially possible.”

In addition, he said a revenue stream must be created to pay for the project’s costs. After analyzing the situation, the developers said the revenue stream must come primarily from real estate taxes generated from at least 500 residential units.

“Obviously there are aldermen that like the concept and some that don’t,” 5th Ward Alderman Steve Weber, chairman of the Planning and Development Committee, said in addressing the developers. “This is a tough piece of property. I understand that from looking at it. It’s got to work for you financially and it has to work for the city, too. I don’t think there’s anybody that doesn’t want something to happen here.”

Eric Schelkopf

Eric Schelkopf

Eric Schelkopf covers St. Charles and writes entertainment stories for the Kane County Chronicle.