The possibility of putting residential housing on the Charlestowne Mall site and transforming the Fox River into a regional outdoor attraction became featured topics at a forum for St. Charles city council candidates Thursday night.
Candidates for the second and fourth aldermanic wards fielded questions from an audience of community members that filled a Pottawatomie Community Center room all the way to the back wall. Many of the questions touched on projects that could have major impacts on the city's economy.
First among those questions was about the future of the Charlestowne Mall (The Quad). New owners sparked fresh enthusiasm about filling the many empty shops inside the mall about four years ago. But since then, only the area outside the mall has seen activity, including the looming opening of a new Cooper's Hawk Winery & Restaurant.
With that in mind, a question came forward from the audience about using some of the mall property for multifamily housing. Most of the candidates said they would at least consider the idea.
Both candidates for the Fourth Ward, David Pietryla and Lora Vitek, said multifamily housing could be a component of the mall property in the future.
"That property has stalled," Pietryla said. "Overall, I think there could be a housing component in the area. We would really have to be strategic."
Vitek agreed that she'd take a critical but open-minded approach to reviewing a multifamily housing project on the property.
"I like mixed-use developments," Vitek said. "But I wouldn't say I'm against multifamily housing going in there."
In the Second Ward, aldermanic candidate Jake Wyatt said he would also consider allowing multifamily housing on the site. He pointed to the inability of the new owners to attract new tenants inside the mall as a sign something else needs to happen.
"Four years ago, this same issue was brought up. And here we are four years later, and nothing has really changed," Wyatt said. "How much longer are we going to wait? We need to take the bull by the horns."
Incumbent Alderman Art Lemke had a different view. He said he still believes in the property as a magnet for retail and commercial development. He is aware of the failure of the outlet mall in Huntley. But he pointed to the booming success of the outlet mall in Aurora as proof that malls can still thrive.
"Just like Charlestowne, that outlet mall in Aurora is on Kirk Road," Lemke said. "Kirk Road can become a viable retail site."
The four candidates also fielded several versions of questions about the pending active river project.
The project would transform the city's portion of the Fox River into a regional magnet by encouraging more use of the river. That new use could involve everything from more fishing and children's splash pad in the river to something as intense as white water rafting.
All the candidates agreed the plan has several appealing aspects but the cost will be an overriding factor in any decision to move forward.
All the candidates said they would consider supporting the removal of the downtown dam if the cost was low enough, the financial return to the city was positive and the environmental impact to the river is beneficial. City officials are awaiting answers to all those questions via an engineering study jointly funded by the park district and active river task force.