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updated: 3/11/2013 10:16 PM

St. Charles aldermen willing to accept offices on Main St.

St. Charles aldermen willing to bend district's rules on Main Street

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Main Street in downtown St. Charles may become a magnet for office space, banks and dental clinics, as aldermen indicated Monday night they prefer allowing those uses over vacant storefronts.

It's not their first choice. Main Street, like much of downtown, sits in an overlay district. The overlay bans the use of first-floor commercial spaces for businesses such as financial institutions. Aldermen created the overlay in 2006 in hopes of creating a critical mass of retail and pedestrian foot traffic on Main Street and other commercial pressure points, such as First Street, North Third Street and Century Corners.

Aldermen said they weren't ready to abandon the overlay in the rest of the central business district just yet, but downtown Main Street is a different animal because it has proved over the years to not be friendly to pedestrians, aldermen agreed.

"It's tight," said Alderman Cliff Carrignan. "There's a lot of traffic. People want to get off Main Street. Most of our parking is off Main Street."

Carrignan, who pushed the offices-on-Main-Street idea, said allowing more non-retail uses downtown will drive property assessments up, which will eventually free up money for more projects such as a north side parking deck.

The city staff initially pitched three other ideas.

One option involved simply shrinking the size of the overlay district. Another option would have allowed some offices in the overlay, particularly if they would generate customer traffic.

A third option would be to break up the overlay district and use it only in pockets where retail would be strongly preferred instead of office space such as on First Street or at Century Corners.

Aldermen ultimately isolated Main Street as the key retail point they wanted to try to tackle first. Carrignan said he didn't expect vacancies on Main Street, or elsewhere, to fill overnight even with a lifting of restrictions on business activity.

"Retail is not the same as what it has been," Carrignan said. "It will never be the same. I would entertain this fourth option and see what happens over a three- to five-year time frame. I think you're going to need that long of a revival window."

City staffers will now research the legalities involved with treating Main Street differently from the rest of the downtown business district before putting the plan up for a city council vote. Aldermen indicated they are unlikely to take final action on the change until after the April election.

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