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updated: 1/14/2014 5:24 AM

St. Charles developer: Downtown needs rentals, restaurants, not retail

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  • St. Charles alderman got to see a condensed version of plans Monday night for this First Street redevelopment area in St. Charles.

       St. Charles alderman got to see a condensed version of plans Monday night for this First Street redevelopment area in St. Charles.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer


The future of downtown St. Charles is rental apartments and restaurants, not the mom-and-pop retail of years gone by, the developer of one of the most important redevelopment projects in the city said Monday night.

Aldermen viewed a formal presentation of a concept for the languishing First Street project they had already greenlighted. The newest plan is a condensed version of the original First Street project once envisioned by city officials.

It involves about 25 percent less building space and about 15 percent less parking than first planned. But the aspect that may have aldermen biting their nails the most will be the final structure of the project, known as Building 3.

That building is set to rise five stories and contain high-level, for-sale condos. A market study commissioned by the city last month calls consumer interest in condos "rather bleak" in the near future.

Developer Bob Rasmussen conceded for the first time publicly that the housing units in Building 3 may need to be converted to apartments in the final draft.

"The for-sale condo market remains extremely stressed," Rasmussen said. "I can stand here today and say that (Building 3) is not a viable building. In the future, that is going to be a viable building, and probably sooner than the (city's market study) says."

The need to transform the condos into apartments may be based on how well the apartments in Buildings 1 and 2 sell. Those two structures will go up first and within six months of each other. The plan is to complete Building 3, and the entire project, within the next 2 years if construction started immediately.

Having already conceded apartments are the way to go for Buildings 1 and 2, aldermen are still holding out hope for an influx of downtown retail via spaces created on the first floors of the new buildings. But Rasmussen said that, too, is a tough task.

Existing retail on First Street is still struggling to survive, Rasmussen said. He predicted multiple existing businesses will close in the near future.

"With people, we'll get retail," Rasmussen said. "We'll get restaurants. We'll get success. It is an equation of getting people in the downtown. I think we need to ordinance in more people. I know if you get the people there, it will happen. We may get some more restaurants in there. I don't believe we're going to get a lot of retail in there. I just don't know if you're going to get it here."

Aldermen are keeping Rasmussen on a dedicated timeline for progress with several milestones to meet along the way. April 7 is the major deadline for Rasmussen to submit a detailed plan for aldermen to vote up or down.

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