Apartment/townhouse plan rings death knell for Charlestowne Mall

Shoppers wrote the eulogy for an empty Charlestowne Mall more than a decade ago when the building went into receivership. On Monday night, St. Charles aldermen belatedly engraved the building's tombstone with a plan to raze most of the mall to make way for hundreds of apartments and townhouses.

The latest idea calls for the movie theater, Von Maur and Carson Pirie Scott to remain intact, with a little extra retail space. Then with more room, the owners would build 155 townhouses on the north end of the property and 256 apartments on the east side.

It was just three years ago that city officials welcomed new ownership with ribbon-cuttings and economic incentives they believed would revive the mall. But despite changes to the building and luring a Starbucks and Cooper's Hawk Winery outside it, mall walkers remained the main foot traffic inside the property now known as The Quad.

Chuck May, on behalf of the mall's owners, waved a white flag on the future of mall-based retail at the site. He said the disappearance of retail stores all across the country have made attracting tenants to malls, particularly enclosed malls like Charlestowne, a losing battle.

"When we had the demise of the Kohl's store - it closed almost a year ago now - it was apparent to us that we had to take different direction," May said.

That direction is tearing down the mall, or as much of it as the site's land conditions will allow. May presented the idea to aldermen to get preliminary feedback from aldermen about converting the property from commercial to residential.

Most aldermen said they loved the idea. In fact, several urged May to demolish the entire mall if at all possible.

"I would be a big proponent of taking the whole thing down," Alderman Todd Bancroft said. "Why keep 150,000 square feet when you could have none? At the end of the day, a successful exit of this deal involves taking that whole center down."

May agreed. However, a land berm on the site would create a 19-foot-deep "canyon" on the property if the entire mall came down. May said he has engineers trying to find a solution.

Renderings of new apartments and townhouses show what the future of the Charlestowne Mall in St. Charles will become if a new plan moves forward. Renderings courtesy of SC 3800 Main LLC

But for now, the ownership is happy to move forward with townhouses and apartments already envisioned.

Alderman Rita Payleitner told May the 155 townhouses might be too many. She prefers more green space, particularly areas that could be used by the public, to create a real buffer between the residences and what would remain of the mall.

Alderman Ron Silkaitis asked for proof, in the form of an updated market study, that the living spaces May wants to create would actually sell or find renters. He pointed to the hundreds of apartments aldermen recently approved for the city's west side that would be possible competitors.

May said he is open to a fresh market study, but he has no doubt the townhouses and apartments would easily draw new residents to the city.

Alderman William Turner said that's exactly what the city's east side needs.

"The reason the east side is struggling is that you don't have a lot of population out there," Turner said. "If we're going to get residential or people on the east side, this is the place you're going to do it."

May will now take the feedback and come back with a more detailed plan for aldermen to vote on later this year.

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