St. Charles officials sent their strongest message yet Monday night that they are done being a bystander to the ever-struggling status of the Charlestowne Mall.
A committee of aldermen agreed to spend $35,000 on a study and brainstorming session with the public about what the best use of the Charlestowne Mall site is. The words "blighted" and "eminent domain" didn't enter the lexicon of the debate, but officials made it clear they will discuss all possible scenarios, including tearing the mall down.
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"We feel strong that we do something," said Chris Aiston, the city's economic development director. "The status quo is an unacceptable position to take as we continue to see the Charlestowne Mall become vacant. We need to know, realistically, what is it going to take to turn this thing around. We're not sure it can be. I think all bets are off."
Part of the problem, officials said, is they've had almost no contact with mall ownership since a California-based investment group took over in June 2010.
Marketing and signage in the mall have advertised the construction of an indoor ice rink and a large sushi and seafood buffet for many months. But Mayor Don DeWitte said mall ownership hasn't even contacted the city about getting any permits to make either of those projects a reality.
DeWitte described the mall as "distressed," but he would neither confirm nor deny the possibility that city officials may use eminent domain to wrest control of the mall away from its current owners.
"We are hoping the study will give us a variety of options to consider in dealing with the status of Charlestowne Mall," DeWitte said. "The unfortunate part is that it is still a privately held piece of property. The owner refuses to engage in any significant discussion regarding moving this property forward and bringing it back to viability."
John Melaniphy, the author of the proposed study of the mall property, said he visited the mall over the weekend and was "astounded" by the number of vacant stores.
He said heavy retail activity on Randall Road is pulling traffic away from the mall, but he wasn't willing to pronounce Charlestowne Mall dead without further study.
Melaniphy said apparel sales are way up in communities with malls like St. Charles, and the mall does have a couple of successful anchor tenants.
The city will incorporate the study and public input into the revised comprehensive plan it is updating. The date for the public input session on the mall has not yet been announced.