Taxing district needed to redevelop former Pheasant Run Resort

We never thought we would see the word "blighted" used to describe a property once considered a suburban gem.

Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles was a premier entertainment destination with its hotel rooms, restaurants, theater, comedy club, golf course, banquet halls and meeting space. In its heyday, the campus along Route 64 drew customers, including business professionals and vacationers, from throughout the region.

But times change, and Pheasant Run had been in decline for years before its owners shut down the resort in March 2020 after a failed attempt to auction the property. Then a massive fire in May 2022 destroyed large parts of the shuttered resort.

Last week, two boys pleaded guilty to felony arson for starting that fire. Two other boys pleaded guilty to misdemeanor trespassing.

Now city officials are trying to do what they can to prevent the site from being an eyesore for years to come. To that end, the St. Charles City Council has agreed to create a tax increment financing district, or TIF, to spur future redevelopment of the property.

In a TIF district, the assessed value of land is frozen for the purpose of calculating how much property tax local governments receive. As property values increase, the difference between what the governments collect in the district and the higher taxes the land generates goes into a fund that helps pay for improvements, such as roads and other infrastructure, within the boundaries of the TIF district.

As we argued in an editorial just last Sunday, TIF districts often are controversial because the rules can be bent to justify them and they keep portions of property tax money from other taxing bodies, such as school districts. But that is not the case here.

Instead, a joint review board that included representatives of local taxing districts affected by the Pheasant Run TIF agreed the property meets the criteria to become a tax increment financing district.

St. Charles staff members initially recommended creating a TIF district for the Pheasant Run property months before it went up in flames. At the time, officials said the resort buildings had become "blighted," and it would be hard to argue with that assessment.

As we pointed out in our editorial on Sunday, the original intent of TIFs was to help communities attract the interest of developers to troubled sites they might not otherwise find appealing. Often, municipalities have stretched the term "blighted" to justify establishing a TIF district, but it is not unreasonable to say the Pheasant Run property needs help. Indeed, it seems the very picture of the type of property TIFs were created for.

A car dealership has opened on the resort's former Mega Center site, and an industrial park is being built on the former golf course. But the main resort campus remains in ruins. Anyone driving by can see the damage, including broken and boarded-up windows on the 14-story guest room tower.

Officials have estimated it would cost $16.5 million just for demolition work, an environmental cleanup and site preparation.

Despite the financial challenges, we hope the Pheasant Run TIF will entice someone to redevelop the property. It would go a long way toward improving the eastern gateway to St. Charles, especially with another deteriorated icon - Charlestowne Mall - nearby.

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