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updated: 2/28/2013 11:22 PM

St. Charles mayoral candidates present plans for downtown

St. Charles candidates share vision for revival

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Discussion about downtown St. Charles has focused on two things for the past several years: There is too much violence and drunken mayhem associated with a large influx of taverns, and there are too many vacant commercial, office and residential spaces for anyone to use the term "vibrant" when describing the downtown.

The four St. Charles mayoral candidates laid out their visions for creating excitement about the downtown at a forum Thursday night.

Jake Wyatt isn't convinced the downtown's future involves a flood of new retail establishments coming to town. Wyatt said the studies he's looked at suggest the local market is already saturated with retail options, and you need more customers to change that.

The best hub for that in the downtown is the First Street development; both more parking and more apartments are needed, Wyatt said.

"The thing I'm going to say is who is the primary developer of First Street?" Wyatt said. "Then I'm going to ask them, 'Why can't you make money?' If they tell me they can make money with apartments, then why aren't we doing that? The development is not done. Don't tell me why you didn't do it. Tell me how you're going to do it."

Wyatt also said cleaning up the taverns is a matter of enforcing the laws and perhaps cutting back the hours they can be open.

"I'm a firm believer that nothing good happens after midnight," Wyatt said.

Ray Rogina agreed with that sentiment. He said the city council must have more direct power to revoke liquor licenses and a policy that lays out specific punishments for violations.

Rogina's downtown vision uses the Arcada Theatre as the key to creating a cultural entertainment draw in the downtown. He said the city should join with local businesses to create a nonprofit to help outlets like the Arcada pay for upgrades that will take their businesses to new levels.

"I'm almost staking the entire mayoral campaign on this proposition," Rogina said. "If you renew it, they will come. And not just to the theater."

Rogina also wants to bring in other attractions, such as an art museum and something similar to the DuPage Children's Museum in Naperville.

"To me, this is the blooming rose downtown," Rogina said.

Jotham Stein already has a business downtown, but he'd like to walk down Main Street and not see empty retail space in every other facility. The downtown needs what the east and west gateways also need, Stein said.

"We need more business," he said. "My top priority is to recruit retail, manufacturing and office space."

He emphasized his long experience as a professional negotiator, including the book on negotiations he wrote, to position himself as the best person to draw new business to the city. And with that new business, some of the existing taverns will be bought out in favor of other establishment, solving two issues with one effort, Stein said.

John Rabchuk envisions St. Charles becoming a hub for cycling enthusiasts through both marketing and business recruitment. St. Charles must create a brand and an identity -- be known for something exciting and fun -- to make it stand out, he said.

"We don't need to compete with Geneva," Rabchuk said. "We'll have our own thing. I remember when everyone complained about too many antique stores downtown. Now it's bars. If you don't have an image, that's what happens. You go in cycles. Now is the time to be creative."

And the city must move quickly, Rabchuk said, as the current business tenants in the First Street development are both struggling and nearing the end of their leases. If the city doesn't create more foot traffic, there will be more empty storefronts to contend with, he said.

"The downtown represents a great opportunity for St. Charles," Rabchuk said. "But it's also kind of a scary thing right now. We need a balance of residential, commercial, services and cultural."

Forum: Whether more retail is needed debated

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