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posted: 8/10/2012 12:15 AM

St. Charles residents envision Charlestowne's future

Residents explore rebuilding, even razing Charlestowne

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On Thursday night a sign in Charlestowne Mall still hung on the wall -- "Family Ice Skating Rink Coming Soon." As the months tick on and on, St. Charles city officials and residents try to send a message to mall ownership that they have a much different definition of "soon."

Indeed, they have an entirely different vision for the future of the mall.

A workshop of about 50 St. Charles residents on Thursday explored two potential futures for Charlestowne Mall as part of the ongoing revision of the city's comprehensive plan. One future sees the mall still standing but operating as a hub of commerce and community activity on the city's east end. The other contemplates the total death and demolition of the mall.

Most workshop participants described a total transformation of either the mall or the land it sits on into more of a community attraction and gathering place than a straight shopping mall.

Many of the ideas involved a mix of open air shopping and indoor retail. And just about everyone wanted any shopping on the site to be a mix of stores that residents now access only by driving to Naperville, Schaumburg or Chicago.

The desired venues include Whole Foods, Rainforest Cafe, Life Time Fitness and an Apple Store. They want to be entertained at an outlet such as Dave & Buster's or Legoland. And they want a community gathering space in the form of a small band shell, a community art gallery or even a university extension or small community college.

Residents also said they want the spot to be a draw for more than just the stores. They want a waterfall feature or lush gardens or some outstanding visual appeal that makes the site a unique attraction for the masses.

But residents also didn't abandon their loyalty to the few attractions Charlestowne Mall currently has.

Everyone agreed that if the mall stays in some form, they want Von Maur, Kohl's, Carson's and the movie theater to stay, but get bigger and better if possible. For instance, the current movie theater already sells almost 750,000 tickets a year. Residents said that number would climb even higher if the theater added more screens and IMAX capability.

When they were done, city officials told the residents all their ideas would be filtered through the realities of the market and pieced together into a cohesive vision for the city's new comprehensive plan.

Alderman Cliff Carrignan said there is almost no idea that officials would outright reject right now.

"Charlestowne Mall is a vital part of what drives our city's economy," Carrignan said. "The last case we want to envision is a dead mall. It will drive your property values down and your taxes up. We have very little leverage on the mall owners. So we need to send messages with influence to them that we're here, we care."

No representative from mall ownership attended the workshop other than the leasing company mall owners hired to try to attract tenants.

Workshop: Alderman says the last thing city wants is a 'dead mall'

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