The part of the property at 3800 E. Main Street in St. Charles that people probably still think of as Charlestowne Mall is the inside. Within the doors, the tombs of shuttered shops are numerous. The carousel in the food court no longer turns. And the sounds of footsteps belong to mall walkers, not shoppers.
But city officials are hoping change comes from the outside in. On Wednesday, Mayor Ray Rogina and city aldermen grasped shiny shovels and joined in a ceremonial turning over of dirt in the mall parking lot to mark the beginning of upgrades to the mall infrastructure. That work actually began a couple weeks ago when bulldozers first rattled onto the scene, setting the imprint of the part of the mall local residents are already beginning to think of as The Quad.
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"I was going to say a journey starts with a single step, but today is not the single step," said F. Ron Krausz, CEO of The Krausz Companies, Inc., which owns the mall. "This is somewhere in the process of many steps we've taken together to get as far as we are today. Because it's the first really public milestone, it's really important to us. It's the first step where we begin to see concrete change here, and it's the first of many concrete changes."
In an interview, St. Charles City Administrator Mark Koenen said the onset of the construction marks the bare minimum the city hoped to gain in forming a relationship with Krausz. Once complete, no matter what happens with the effort to lure new tenants to the mall, the city will have an improved, more marketable, piece of land. But Koenen said his expectations are much higher.
"I think this is truly a sign of things to come," Koenen said. "A company does not spend millions of dollars for a project they are not going to follow up on. Krausz has been committed all along. Their timeline has been aggressive, and we're seeing significant physical change starting on the campus here. The naysayers aren't as vocal these days."
Count Marwan Taib as one of the believers. He owns the Spotted Fox Ale House across the street from the mall. It's possibly the only privately-owned, non-franchise, to survive the loss of traffic caused by lengthy construction on Rt. 64 and departure of several anchor stores in the area. Taib watched the groundbreaking Wednesday with great anticipation.
"We opened two years ago, and it's been two years of struggle," Taib said. "We've been waiting for this. These guys seem to have a great project coming together. This is going to be the stability of this east side that we've been looking for. Being across from a regional mall is going to be a blessing. Hopefully we'll see more steady traffic on a regular basis."
That's already happening. Taib said he's seen an uptick in customers ever since the exterior work on the mall property began. And there's a buzz growing.
"Our guests are talking about it, and they are excited," Taib said. "It's bringing life back to the east side."