The debut of a rejuvenated Charlestowne Mall may only be a couple seasons away, a change that would make local business owners and St. Charles city officials happy.
Business owners said at a forum this week that improving retail on the east side of the city is their No. 1 focus for the city as it forms a new comprehensive plan. The plan will service as a guide for construction and development in the city for the next 15 years. City officials have repeatedly expressed frustration over a lack of communication between them and Charlestowne Mall's new ownership group. A California-based investment group purchased the mall in June 2010. Since then, change has been slow to arrive at the mall.
In recent weeks, the mall's parking lot has received a complete makeover, indicating the hope for more foot traffic is still alive. Mall management has also hired Geneva-based Sperry Van Ness to help find tenants for the mall's many vacant stores. Early successes indicate new retail shops may be hard to attract until some of the major changes at the mall are complete. The Tai Chi Society and a youth stage group are the newest tenants at the mall. Michelangelo Gallery, a former tenant, has also returned to the mall.
Jeff Renkert, a marketing consultant hired by the mall, said it's true none of those new tenants are the traditional retail outlets seen in malls, but adding any new tenants in the current economy is a victory.
"You've got to cover your expenses," Renkert said. "We're in the rental business. In this economy, we haven't got the luxury to say a store isn't going to complement the existing tenant mix."
Renkert said there is a big push to fill the anchor space vacated by Sears in March.
"Once you land a major retailer for that space, the rest will follow," Renkert said. "But that's a tough space to lease because of its size and the fact that it's two stories. But we're still the only game in town when it comes to our anchors, Carson Pirie Scott and Von Maur, for a long ways."
In the meantime, the biggest looming changes involve an indoor ice rink and a large sushi and seafood buffet in the mold of a Las Vegas-style restaurant. Renkert said he believes the buffet is "a done deal." However, the ice rink just moved from its original location closer to the old Sears space in an effort to consolidate the entertainment venues at the mall. But while the advertising for the ice rink and the construction barriers are up, none of the actual heavy lifting has begun to make the ice rink a reality, Renkert said.
"This is going to be a long process," Renkert said. "But we believe people are excited about it."
Renkert said he expects both the ice rink and the buffet will be open by spring.
City Administrator Brian Townsend said city officials received "very preliminary plans" from the architect working on the ice rink and buffet plans, but "there has been no formal submittal of an application for a building permit."
"I am unaware of the current state of the development of the plans that will be required as part of the permit/review/inspection process," Townsend in an email interview. "The city has not had any conversations with the owners in several weeks."