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posted: 4/15/2014 5:30 AM

St. Charles aldermen boot local, non-retail employer from downtown

Non-retail employer expanded into first-floor downtown space, which is prohibited

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Fear of setting a precedent that might push retail uses out of downtown storefronts spurred St. Charles aldermen to give a local company that employs 150 people the boot Monday night.

ALE Solutions Inc. provides temporary housing for people across the country who lose their homes in the event of a catastrophe, such as a fire or natural disaster. The company began in St. Charles 13 years ago and has outgrown its space at the Fox Island Square building, 1 W. Illinois St. downtown. Needing room to accommodate 14 new employees, the business took over a first-floor office in the same building several weeks ago.

St. Charles has an overlay district downtown that prohibits non-retail and professional offices from occupying first-floor commercial space. Aldermen put the overlay district in place to prevent long-term business uses that don't create significant sales tax revenue or further the desire to have a downtown centered on shopping and dining.

With that rule in place, the city issued a 30-day notice to ALE Solutions to vacate the property.

Robert Zimmers, CEO of the company, appealed the decision to aldermen Monday night. He said the office is only a temporary solution.

The company wants to build a larger, permanent headquarters elsewhere in the city in about one year. But he needs the current office space to get through the tornado season, which is one of his peak business periods.

"We employ 150 people who all eat locally," Zimmers said. "We're very much a part of the fabric of the downtown. About 30 people, on average, come to our offices every day. So we also generate a significant amount of traffic into our business."

But aldermen said the business generates a little too much traffic, at least in the form of how many downtown parking spaces its employees occupy.

Alderman Jim Martin said a lack of customer parking in the area is one reason the Bistro One West restaurant closed its doors. Martin said he's witnessed ALE employees parking in blatant violation of posted laws in customer spaces all day long.

"Your employees don't pay attention," Martin said. "I'm a strong advocate for the first-floor retail ordinance. It just tears me up to see that little bit by bit my ordinance is being chewed up. And here we go again."

Zimmers told aldermen he would be more diligent in policing where his employees park. But that only bought him part of what he asked for.

Instead of a one-year agreement, aldermen agreed to give him 90 days to move out of the first-floor office. Even then, aldermen requested a staff report on the parking situation every 30 days. If parking problems continue, aldermen said they'd void the 90-day agreement.

Aldermen concocted the agreement as a committee. They must still take a formal vote as the city council to lock in the deal.

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