ST. CHARLES – The issue of what to do with the largely vacant Charlestowne Mall was one of the issues discussed by candidates running for 2nd Ward Alderman on the St. Charles City Council during a candidate forum on March 14 hosted by the League of Women Voters of Central Kane County
Second Ward Alderman Rita Payleitner, who was first elected to the City Council in 2011, faces a challenge from Ryan Bongard, a resident of St. Charles since 2009 and the founder and chief officer of Twelve21 LLC., a private equity and consulting firm.
In December 2017, the Krausz Companies Inc. – owner of the mall, which it renamed The Quad – closed the interior shops and enclosed mall space at the center. Anchors Von Mauer and Classic Cinemas remain open.
Concept plans submitted in May 2017 included reducing the size of the mall building and building 155 townhouse units north of the mall and 256 apartment units east of the mall.
During the forum, Payleitner and Bongard answered questions covering a variety of topics, including what actions they would take with regard to the mall property.
"That's a tough one," Bongard replied. "Nobody wants the mall to be successful more than the City Council. The position that we're in right now is not anyone's fault, certainly not the City Council's. If you are talking about demolishing it and doing mixed residential, that's certainly an option. Personally, I'm not sure that's the most exciting option. But if that's going to get the project moving forward, great."
He did not, however, endorse trying to bring the mall back as a retail destination.
"We're not putting in retail," he said. "That's gone. There's no more box retail. What we need to look at potentially is finding a new development plan, finding a new business model, whether we're talking about entertainment or recreation. The movie theater is an anchor for that building. I hesitate to call it a mall. So what can we do to potentially change the model?"
Payleitner said the city is "waiting in the wings" for the mall ownership to take the next step.
"We don't own the mall," she said. "We've given them no money. They have no accountability to us. But, what we have seen is a good concept plan. The mall people have done their homework, they've done their market research and this mixed use is going to work."
She also noted that businesses like the popular Cooper's Hawk Winery and Restaurant chose to locate on the mall property.
"It chose to be there because it's optimistic about what's going to be happening on the east side," Payleitner said.
The two candidates were also asked to give their opinion about the Active River Project. Aldermen are studying a plan to replace the existing dam in downtown St. Charles with whitewater and recreational channels, install a recreational zipline above the Fox River and do other improvements along the Fox River.
"First off, I think it's a creative idea," Bongard said. "And I give the City Council and the stakeholders a lot of credit for looking at different ways that we can push St. Charles forward. Obviously, $15 million to $20 million is a big price tag. Not sure how you are going to pay for it, but it's an exciting idea."
Bongard said he wants to know more about the impact the project would have on the local economy and if would create traffic problems in the downtown.
"If we are talking about bringing more people to use the river, which is a great idea, how are we going to tackle the congestion?" he asked. "Where are people going to park? What does that mean in terms of multi-level parking?
Payleitner said she has been a strong proponent of the Active River Project.
"The river is our most beautiful natural asset," she said. "Now we have an opportunity to make it be a complement to our downtown. We're going to get a report on the economic impact of this river project and it's looking good, folks, it's looking good. We have properties that are going to increase in value and we have tax revenues that are going to rise. That was just a preview that we got at the plan commission meeting. It's going to bring a new focus to our downtown and I'm very excited about it."