Apartment complex proposed for former St. Charles Mall site

There's no other way to put this. A portion of the west side of St. Charles is suffering because nothing has happened for decades with the land that was once known and loved as the St. Charles Mall.

Based on a recent trip down memory lane on Facebook in which area residents were posting photos of the inside of the old mall, which was shut down in 1995 and knocked down in 2002, people miss that place. Or, at the very least, they miss having something on that site.

Shodeen Group wants to put an apartment complex there, and insists there isn't much demand for retail in that spot. That's probably true, but a nice apartment complex might attract some development on the empty Burger King and Colonial restaurant sites that are just adding to the blight in that region.

However, unlike the east side of town and its near-empty Charlestowne Mall, the city doesn't need a major redo in this west-side area. With a Citibank branch, a NAPA auto parts store filling the old Blockbuster site, and the Salvation Army store in the former Dominick's site, the nearby strip mall is doing OK. A Planet Fitness location and Hobbytown USA fill other key spots.

And it goes without saying that the nearby Binny's liquor store has a lot of customers.

Shodeen has completed quality projects in Geneva, making it hard to envision the group not doing the same in St. Charles. But the developers notice what is happening around the empty 28 acres they own. They surely have a hard time envisioning a sudden retail boom spilling over into their plans.

There remains a lot to contemplate, and neighbors have made it clear they prefer more commercial than residential. They know apartments bring their own set of problems to an area. But we all have to agree this section of the city can use a booster shot.

Bad braking noise

Not long ago, I mentioned that St. Charles wins my award as the noisiest downtown of the Tri-Cities. My reasoning was traffic flows through St. Charles better than the other towns, so trucks barrel through at a good clip. Plus, the sidewalks are very close to the downtown streets, so there is no buffer as in Geneva with its diagonal parking setup.

Reader Phil Kessler dropped me a note saying he agreed with my assessment. But it's not from traffic flow, he says, but rather from large trucks, notably gravel trucks, "engine braking" in parts of town.

Engine braking is a noisy practice, one initiated when a truck driver controls speed without wearing out the vehicle's brakes. Instead, the engine brakes itself by becoming more of an air compressor, producing a noise that would make a car with a bad muffler seem fairly quiet.

Truckers coming from the gravel pit north of St. Charles appear to be the main culprits in Kessler's view. Those without the proper muffling system largely ignore the "No Engine Braking" zone from Main Street south to Mount St. Mary's Park, he said.

"To be fair to the gravel truckers, others also use their engine brakes, but we have identified several repeat offenders among the gravel truck drivers," Kessler said. When they have time to address it, St. Charles police are trying to bring more attention to the problem, Kessler added.

Anyone for brunch?

As much as I enjoy eating, it is safe to say that I am not a loyal brunch patron.

My readers have often provided feedback after checking out a restaurant I mentioned, or informed me they were glad to stay updated about new places coming and current ones closing.

In the case of good places to go for brunch, I would have to ask readers to send me notes about that. I don't really know the answer.

In seeing recent advertisements about brunch at the new Finery and Blacksmith restaurant in downtown St. Charles on Saturdays and Sundays, it got me wondering how many Sunday brunches still take place around here.

Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, Oscar Swan Inn in Geneva and Lincoln Inn in Batavia, and the Turf Room in North Aurora offer brunch, but there may be some others in the area.

Drop me a note and let me know if you have a favorite out there.

Those fire pits

Incorporating a fire pit into an outdoor seating area is the latest feature to attract diners at some local restaurants - and something we're likely to see more of next summer and fall.

The Office in St. Charles and Claddagh Irish Pub in Geneva have those settings, but The Range Grill and Tap in Batavia is hoping to add one to an outdoor beer garden soon, and owners of the Charleston on the River, planned for the 1 W. Illinois St. site in St. Charles, are also talking about a fire pit on the patio overlooking the river.

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