ST. CHARLES – Six of the nine candidates running in contested races for St. Charles alderman spent Thursday night fielding questions from a few dozen residents gathered at a forum sponsored by the Concerned Coalition for Sensible Spending of St. Charles.
The candidates – Justin Osborne and Ron Silkaitis for the 1st Ward; Art Lemke for the 2nd Ward; Mario VanDerHeyden for the 3rd Ward; and incumbent Maureen Lewis and Kim Malay for the 5th Ward – crowded around a table at Bridges Montessori Academy on Howard Street.
Incumbents Jon Monken of the 1st Ward, Cliff Carrignan of the 2nd Ward and Bill Turner of the 3rd Ward were not in attendance.
Encouraged to keep their answers short, the candidates covered topics including vacant and struggling retail properties, how they would prepare for meetings and their stance on apartments.
When asked about priorities if elected, Osborne said he would reinvigorate communication with 1st Ward residents. The other non-incumbents – Silkaitis, Lemke, VanDerHeyden and Malay – shared a desire for an ethics ordinance.
“The city has an ethics ordinance,” Lewis said. “Could it be improved upon? Sure.”
Malay said most of the existing ordinance is state statute, and the city can improve and personalize it.
The candidates’ dreams for the former St. Charles Mall site along Route 38 also were similar.
Malay wants, on a smaller scale, to replicate Oakbrook Center and suggested it use the north and south sides of the properties along Route 38.
“The more mass the better,” she said.
While Lewis would love to turn the property into a park, she said that’s not possible. She envisions retail, medical and office space and an education component, she said.
VanDerHeyden would support a CarMax there and retail with strong anchors, he said.
Lemke, who earlier spoke about the importance of having critical mass retail, said he would want retail on that property.
Silkaitis said he doesn’t want housing there. He would support tax-generating businesses.
As alderman, Osborne said he would ask his constituents what they wanted. As a resident, he would want retail and a large attraction that would draw people to St. Charles, such as Dave & Busters.
To reinvigorate other, smaller shopping centers such as Tin Cup Pass, Osborne said foot traffic must be generated. Silkaitis said improving Charlestowne Mall – the east side’s retail anchor – would affect neighboring retail spaces.
“Synergy is the key issue there,” said Lemke, describing the business that a mall automotive center could bring to other stores.
VanDerHeyden said he would work first with the landowners to learn about their needs, such as rezoning.
Until the construction is done on Route 64, the business climate won’t improve on the east side, Lewis said. St. Charles also must ensure its policies are business friendly because businesses don’t want to go through a lot of red tape to open.
St. Charles should have incentive packages for businesses and a strong economic development department that aggressively markets the city, Malay said.
According to the Kane County clerk’s website, about 13 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the consolidated election two years ago.
“Whoever you vote for, just vote,” Silkaitis said.
The election is April 9.