More talk, more questions, more ideas for Charlestowne Mall

  • As St. Charles plan commission members question developers' plans for the Charlestowne Mall site, columnist Dave Heun looks back on some of his ideas for the property.

      As St. Charles plan commission members question developers' plans for the Charlestowne Mall site, columnist Dave Heun looks back on some of his ideas for the property. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 
Posted1/14/2022 6:00 AM

For St. Charles, it's a story as "old as the hills," but at least it has given us something to talk about for decades and most currently can take our minds off COVID variants, vaccine mandates or at-home schooling and work -- even if just for a few moments.

It's been at least five or six years since a reader sent me a scathing note accusing me of being too negative about the inactivity at the Charlestowne Mall. Essentially St. Charles' east-side monument to a changing retail landscape and the lost visions of various developers.

 

But here we are at it again, as plan commission members are questioning the number of housing units -- 351 apartments and 250 townhouse rentals -- current developers are proposing for the site. It's a good question, considering all of the townhouses and apartments already in that part of the city.

I have some thoughts on this topic again, but it's at least somewhat risky to put too much stock in what I say or think about major developments or business transitions in any of our cities.

After all, I called for the old St. Charles Mall on the city's west side to be converted into a Roller Derby rink some 30 years ago. When the city sought a new suitor, the Hotel Baker could maybe become a riverfront casino and entertainment venue.

A view of the exterior of Charlestowne Mall on Tuesday in St. Charles.
  A view of the exterior of Charlestowne Mall on Tuesday in St. Charles. - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer
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Those thoughts were made tongue-not-so-firmly-in-cheek because we were getting no place fast on either front at the time. Those two situations worked out far better than my silly ideas. Still, I don't regret irritating a few people who either thought I was serious about my ideas -- or that someone with actual decision-making authority might think they were pretty good.

As for Charlestowne Mall, development partners S.R. Jacobsen Development Corporation and Lormax Stern Development Company LLC are pushing for a tax-increment finance district for the site, which freezes tax assessments and aids development costs, particularly knocking down the vast majority of the mall site.

The developers are correct in saying that revitalizing an indoor mall is a thing of the past. That could be interpreted a bit as, "we have an idea for this site, and waiting or hoping for some type of retail miracle isn't in our playbook."

So, it's a thing of the past if you only think about the past. But it should be noted Krausz Companies Inc., which is the lead player in the Charlestowne Mall project, has some solid ideas to offer -- a food truck plaza, ice cream stand, amphitheater and event gazebo, along with dining patios and specialty shops, as well as a hotel on the west side of the site. Von Maur and the Classic Cinemas site would remain and Starbucks and Cooper's Hawk restaurant.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Charlestowne Mall in St. Charles opened in 1991 but is now largely vacant.
  Charlestowne Mall in St. Charles opened in 1991 but is now largely vacant. - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

With commercial additions along Main Street being part of the plan, we likely won't see futuristic reuse of the mall's interior, such as it becoming a grand Apple or Google shopping mecca and playground. Or the latest Amazon creation added to Amazon Go or Amazon Fresh stores.

My thoughts work along those lines in terms of considering more indoor uses, similar to mall repurposing ideas in some parts of the country.

"Silicon Valley is a leading indicator of this type of thing," said Richard Crone, chief executive of San Carlos, California-based retail tech consulting firm Crone Consulting LLC. "We have seen a lot of retail space being repurposed in very creative ways."

Mostly, California is seeing a resurgence of what Crone calls "the European days of old where the shopkeeper lives up above the business they operate."

That's a somewhat common sight in parts of New York City or Chicago or even smaller towns. Still, the concept is also taking hold in empty mall settings where developers are packaging living quarters and retail space below it.

In addition, they are embracing the concept of attracting and serving consumers who simply "travel through retail settings differently" in this era of multichannel shopping and revamped physical locations that complement online payment and ordering services, Crone noted.

"There is more focus on changing the experience for consumers, a somewhat Disneyland type of experience, in this refurbishing," he added.

Crone points out there is no doubt Amazon has already been on the hunt for empty malls across the country, primarily turning them into distribution centers.

That likely wouldn't fly on the east side of St. Charles, but city planners have to think ahead in case the current mall development proposals hit major snags.

Even though we're pulling for them to come through, if this group of developers cannot deliver in the future, other ideas would have to enter the picture again.

Amazon or a competitor may not be seeking a distribution center but could zero in on a retail and grocery mecca to serve a populated region with new retail technology and experiences.

Imagine walking into a store, filling a cart and paying for it, and walking out without ever reaching for a payment card or waiting in a checkout line because you're already "registered." That's happening already in large cities and nearby suburbs.

Hey, it's a better option than a Roller Derby rink or a casino.

A spot for Old Glory

With the promotion of patriotism long being one of its many important causes, the Exchange Club of the Tri-Cities is sponsoring the American flag installation in the First Street Plaza project unfolding in St. Charles.

The club committed $5,000 toward the expense of installing the flag at the north entrance adjacent to Main Street.

"We were planning to promote the installation and seek donations after the holidays," said Jon Hull, Exchange Club member helping spearhead the effort.

Those interested in supporting the effort can write checks to Tri-Cities Exchange Club, with a "First Street Flag" note on the memo line, and send them to Bill Martin at 6N372 Splitrail Lane, St. Charles, IL 60175.

The club also has created a GoFundMe page at gofund.me/8505e45c for donors. The club joins the city of St. Charles and other organizations raising funds for the project.

He was a good cop

St. Charles was lucky to have a chief of police who was steady, consistent and dedicated to serving his community for 13 years.

Jim Roche wasn't the only police chief in a small town in this country who did his job well, but we surely appreciated his efforts from 1986 to 1999 in St. Charles.

Roche died on Friday, Dec. 10, at the age of 71, at his home in Door County, Wisconsin, where he spent his summers heading to Tucson, Arizona, in the winter.

Roche left local law enforcement in St. Charles to serve as a federal security director for the Transportation Security Administration and ultimately as a federal coordinating officer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

He was a gentleman who did a lot to keep us safe, and it seems right that we send our thanks and condolences to his family.

Cellars signs off

There's no denying it's a really nice downtown setting with outdoor seating in Geneva's popular Dodson Place plaza along Third Street.

But the wine tasting comes to an end at Galena Cellars Tasting Room at the end of the month.

One would think another business, maybe even wine-related would unfold at that 227 S. Third St. corner spot within the plaza.

Owners cited the pandemic as a key reason the business, which has been serving Geneva since 2004, was closing down as attention moved to Galena's operation.

Knowing their music

In my annual Christmas column about the Rev. William Beckmann's holiday lore presentation for his service club, plenty of readers caught a boo-boo in my report.

In saying Bing Crosby wrote and sang "White Christmas," several readers were quick to note Irving Berlin wrote this holiday classic. He did it in 1942 for the movie "Holiday Inn."

Crosby made it into the mega-hit it became, of course. But the song written by Berlin has become a staple for many crooners and contemporary singers since the early 1940s.

dheun@sbcglobal.net

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