All four candidates for St. Charles mayor agree the first step to a better Charlestowne Mall is new ownership. But getting to that point, and what happens after, would take different paths depending on which of the four candidates is elected.
In two candidate forums and an endorsement session with the Daily Herald, the candidates have all laid out their game plans.
John Rabchuk helped draft the pending new comprehensive plan for the city. That plan envisions various scenarios that include keeping the mall substantially the same or undergoing a radical modification to the building. Rabchuk said the mall is already for sale. Luring a buyer is a matter of making the property attractive for redevelopment, he said.
"Business will come when you build the right attraction to it," Rabchuk said.
He favors a total redo of the interior roadway and parking lot system around the mall. The idea is to create more outlots where restaurants and other businesses would create a customer base for the mall. He supports a city condemnation only as a "desperate" last resort.
Rabchuk says he is interested in the idea of creating a business district with a special tax that would create financial incentives for a mall developer, but he is not ready to put his full support behind it until the plan is fully defined.
Ray Rogina is fan of the business district concept. But he won't support a new tax in the business district until a buyer has already come forward with a plan indicating what type of financial help may be needed from the city.
"That particular development would have to be incentivized," Rogina said. "I don't think you're going to get any interest without that taking place."
Rogina does not favor any major structural change to the mall itself.
"Demolition will start putting people in the hole as far as costs are concerned," Rogina said. "It does need a big box, where Sears was, probably."
Rogina also suggested some form of a sports complex and/or college extension occupying at least part of the mall campus.
Jake Wyatt said the current mall owners have made many empty promises, but condemnation can't be used as a threat to force change. He favors the idea of creating a business district, but not necessarily a tax to go along with it right way.
In fact, Wyatt envisions three separate business districts covering the geographical spectrum of the city. He would use those districts as a forum to work with the different businesses and industries. As for the mall, and the area around it, Wyatt said studies indicate the city should not expect a wave of stores to come in, even with a sale of the mall.
"We're over-stored in several commodities," Wyatt said. "But I believe there is an agreement we can make with these owners and revitalize that mall. Not a TIF, but some kind of reduced tax concessions."
Jotham Stein said the mall being on the market doesn't mean the city can sit back and wait for someone to buy it. City officials have no idea how serious the mall owners are about selling the mall or enhancing it because there is no relationship with those owners, he said. Stein plans on flying out to California, on his own time, to talk with the owners within the first two months of being elected if he wins.
"You have to figure out if their investment is the most important thing in their portfolio," Stein said. "If it is, I will help them bring in businesses. If not, and they don't really care, then I'm going to encourage them to sell the mall to someone who is going to refurbish it. If you drop the price enough, someone will want to invest in it."
Stein is not a fan of talking about what physical changes are needed at the mall or creating a business district over the east side of the city to attract and finance a buyer for the mall, at least not yet.
"It's building the sidewalk before the buildings," Stein said. "What we need to do is recruit in those businesses. When different owners come here, then we'll get a sense of what need to be done. Without that, we will be wasting lots of time and money."