ST. CHARLES – Set against a red backdrop on the Arcada Theatre’s stage, the four St. Charles mayoral hopefuls Tuesday talked business at a forum sponsored by the St. Charles Chamber of Commerce.
Legislative Committee Chair Susan Parker moderated the hourlong event, which used questions generated by chamber members.
The candidates – John Rabchuk, Ray Rogina, Jotham Stein and Jake Wyatt – had different approaches to revitalizing the empty storefronts downtown.
The answer, Rabchuk said, is a communitywide, comprehensive effort that would create an atmosphere attractive to businesses. Make St. Charles a cycling hub, offer free entertainment and, he said, turn the Fox River into a whitewater river.
“Let’s use it to drive business,” he said of the natural resource.
Lifting the restrictions imposed by the downtown overlay district would be a “solid first step” toward generating foot traffic, Rogina said, referencing a topic aldermen discussed Monday in committee. Arts and entertainment, as well as a college presence, also would boost downtown, he said.
“An education component is a plus,” Rogina said. “Never forget that.”
Stein said his solution applies citywide: Bring more businesses to the city. In addition to refocusing the Economic Development Department, he proposed creating a council for business that will foster dialogue between business and city leaders. He wants St. Charles to not only be the No. 1 city for families, he said. “We want to be the No. 1 city for business."
Wyatt said the city must focus on retaining the existing businesses and filling the vacancies. He supports a quarterly forum that would seek input from business leaders and having a monthly festival to generate foot traffic.
“This is not going to be an easy task,” Wyatt said of downtown revitalization.
Aldermen have discussed creating a business district on the city’s east side to revitalize the area.
Such districts can work, Rogina said, noting Yorktown in Lombard as an example. He would support a sales tax increase for an eastside business district only after a favorable public hearing and when there’s a plan in place. He said the benefits must outweigh the costs.
As with modifying the overlay district, Stein said creating a business district would put the cart before the horse.
“I say no, it’s not the right time now,” Stein said. “We will be wasting lots and lots of time and money.”
Wyatt reiterated the importance of retaining existing businesses and said incentives for businesses should be considered.
“Are we willing to make tax concessions?” Wyatt said.
Rabchuk couldn’t say whether he is in favor of a business district because it hasn’t been defined.
“It is a very interesting method,” Rabchuk said.