There's a post-apocalyptic feel in St. Charles' Charlestowne Mall.
A handful of mall walkers represent the only foot traffic. There are faint signs of music emanating from a fitness center. A poster inside a former store directory sign displays what might be a fitting epitaph: "Epic Fail," it reads.
The words in the World Wildlife Federation poster are a plea to preserve freshwater sources. Right now, St. Charles officials are more interested in protecting the economy on the east side of the city. It's been six months since the mall owners provided the public an update on their mission to revive the site.
Mall representatives in May told city officials it's time to abandon the idea of rejuvenating the mall by attracting new stores. Instead, they'll keep the movie theater, Von Maur and Carson Pirie Scott. They will demolish all but 150,000 square feet of the structure to make way for 155 townhouses on the north end of the property and 256 apartments on the east end.
Mayor Ray Rogina confirmed mall owners would take a step toward making the vision a reality by closing the interior of the mall on Dec. 1. Customers of the theater and remaining stores will have to enter them from separate exterior entrances.
Rogina said there is no reason at this time to doubt the future of the three remaining anchors. The theater will add dining. Carson's has at least another few years left on its lease. Von Maur hasn't announced any plans to move.
Stalled progress toward the residential plan led Rogina to call for a recent meeting with mall ownership.
"I told them this is a very important part of our eastern gateway and we need a sense of where you're going," Rogina said.
The ownership team confirmed interest in moving forward with the townhouses and apartments. The problem is they don't know how to build them. The Krausz Companies specializes in commercial development.
Rogina said Krausz would "engage a large, national residential developer" to handle the apartments and townhouses. He declined to name the residential developer since the deal may not yet be complete.
There also are questions about what bringing in a residential developer means.
"Is it a partnership? Is it a sell-off? I don't know the answer to that," Rogina said.
Either way, no significant construction is expected over the winter months. The closure of the "guts" of the mall Dec. 1 is a cost-saving measure, Rogina theorized.
City officials expect to learn more about the residential plan in early 2018.
Mall: St. Charles mayor tries to push things along