St. Charles in no rush to find economic development 'rainmaker'
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The Charlestowne Mall in St. Charles is up for sale and in a potential state of transition. City officials, however, don't believe they need an economic development director to see the city through that process.
rick West | Staff Photographer
The retirement of St. Charles' economic development director isn't ringing any emergency bells for city officials despite a number of commercial vacancies. While Mayor Ray Rogina and the city council are helping write a new job profile for the position, Rogina said the city is well poised to handle any development opportunities that come its way.
Chris Aiston, the current economic development director, will retire July 31 after about 3Ĺ years with the city. Aiston came to St. Charles after serving in the same role for Kane County, which also didn't replace Aiston because of the sluggish economy and budget cutbacks.
"He worked hard to advance the economic vitality of St. Charles during one of the toughest economic downturns our country, and community, has faced," City Administrator Brian Townsend said in a written statement.
Despite the hardship, Townsend pointed to Aiston's efforts in luring a Triumph motorcycle dealership and RR Donnelly to the city as his key accomplishments. Aiston also lured Sears back to the city, with a smaller appliance store, after the company abandoned its anchor slot at Charlestowne Mall.
The mall is still a relative ghost town, but Rogina said the ball is rolling and will continue to roll even without Aiston's presence.
"The mall is for sale; that's a fact," Rogina said. "And there's been chatter on that scene. If a deal is consummated, the city administrator and the mayor are in position, in the short term, to sit down with any new ownership."
Rogina feels the same way about a stall in progress in the First Street development project that has long been hailed at the key to the success of downtown. Ditto for the former St. Charles Mall property owned by Shodeen that has seen no activity since aldermen shot down the mixed-use Towne Centre idea a couple years ago.
What the city really needs in a new economic development director, Rogina said, is a recruiter that can bring new businesses and/or residential developers to the city in areas of town where there isn't any action or ingrained land owners.
"If you're going to have an economic development director, that person has to be a rainmaker," Rogina said. "St. Charles has so many sellable assets to it ó our natural beauty, our downtown charm. So you've got a lot of moves on the chessboard already in place. Now it comes down to finding someone with the skills to use those assets."
A delay in hiring a replacement would allow the city to save some money. Aiston is currently the sixth-highest paid employee in the city with a total compensation of $149,274. Rogina noted the city already uses tax dollars to subsidize two full organizations that should play big roles in spurring development activity.
"We've got a great partner in the Downtown Partnership," Rogina said. "I expect them to be a helping hand in this economic development process. They have to be. We subsidize the group, and they have a mission. Downtown is a key area. I will say the same thing about the St. Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau. We subsidize them with the hotel and motel tax, but there is no rush to judgment here until we evaluate what they do."
With those pieces in place, Rogina said it may be awhile before the city hires another economic development director.
"I don't see that we're in any immediate rush," Rogina said.
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