Departing and dying retail on St. Charles' east side is the top concern for the existing members of the local business community, participants at a workshop said Tuesday morning.
Business owners and managers in St. Charles gathered to give city officials input for the new comprehensive plan the city is drafting. The plan will serve as a guide for development and construction priorities for the next 15 years.
Businesses, including people actively seeking to fill empty retail spots in the city, said government leaders must do a better job at providing incentives, such as tax breaks, to lure more shops to the city. Participants said they consistently hear Naperville and neighboring Geneva are more attractive options for businesses to locate because they provide better incentives.
Chris Aiston, the city's economic development director, said a recurring theme of the comprehensive plan meetings is an outcry about a lack of retail in the city.
Aiston said, in terms of the downtown, there isn't more retail because there are really no more places to put it. In return, local business leaders pointed to lack of completion of the city's First Street Redevelopment Project for the downtown as a major problem. The business group said it may be time to abandon the idea of condominiums for First Street because the retail market has swayed in favor of rental units.
Aiston said there are a lot of spaces on the city's periphery, including the east side, for retail growth.
"Right now there is some leakage," Aiston said. "People are going elsewhere to purchase retail goods. Why? Because we don't have those outlets like we used to. The answer, in some part, is how we adapt to the economic conditions and incentive-ize the marketplace so the cost of doing business in St. Charles is such that you're willing to locate there. We all know you need customers at your location before you locate there. But that's a chicken-and-egg problem."
Participants in the forum also said they'd like more communication with the city on a regular basis. Little contact is had with the city after a business opens to help ensure it survives the crucial first couple of years, participants said. A suggestion was made to create new business groups that don't just focus on the downtown.
Downtown businesses will get more of a direct say in that idea and provide their own input at a comprehensive plan forum targeting them. That meeting is slated for 7 p.m. Oct. 12 at the Baker Memorial Community Center's Collins Auditorium.