When St. Charles officials used tax dollars to buy the former George's Sporting Goods store in late December it was not a typical purchase for the city, and the four mayoral candidates all have differing views about how the building should now be used.
Unlike the city's purchase of the old Little Woods School for a new water tower site, the $225,000 acquisition of the sporting goods store came with no definitive plan in mind. Statements from city officials only said the purchase made sense because the building was in disrepair and could possibly help the neighboring Arcada Theatre expand. Four months later, the old storefront is still unused. Officials utilized existing tax dollars, including some originally collected through a special tax to build the Red Gate Bridge, for the purchase.
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Jotham Stein said at a candidates forum this week that the purchase was an improper use of tax dollars. He said bar owners have told him the city bought this building out of fear that another downtown tavern would go into the space. Even at $225,000, Stein said the city overpaid for the dilapidated building.
"I don't think the city should be in the business of buying inflated property," Stein said. "It is poor fiscal stewardship. If you let the price go down, someone would have bought the property. I'm deeply concerned about what's going in there."
John Rabchuk said he also has concerns about the vagueness of the city's vision for the site. Rabchuk said the theater has trouble booking acts because the dressing rooms, lobby and restrooms are all small and outdated. But he doesn't believe the city should get too involved with running or helping the Arcada.
"I'm not in favor of government running a for-profit business," he said. "That needs to be separate from the city altogether. For the city to buy it (to make it a part of the theater) is a mistake."
Ray Rogina voted in favor of the purchase in his role as an alderman. He has no regrets about the purchase, calling it a "pre-emptive strike."
However, he wouldn't say what the city was striking against. Rogina has made rehabilitation of the Arcada a keystone in his downtown redevelopment platform in his campaign. He said the sporting goods building is part of that plan.
"The city should not be in the business of running a theater, but we should be partners, cheerleaders, and saying here is an opportunity to bring double, triple our visitors to St. Charles," Rogina said.
Jake Wyatt said the purchase of the sporting goods building is more evidence of a transparency problem the city has with spending tax dollars.
"What the city owes us is what are they going to use it for," Wyatt said. "Is it going to be used to complement the Arcada Theatre exclusively, or does it have a multipurpose use? To sit there, and buy it, and be closed mouthed about it, that's wrong."
Wyatt said there is no way to undo the purchase of the building. That being the case, he would support use of the space to help the theater in some fashion.