St. Charles turning focus to redeveloping downtown north of Main Street

Stand on the Main Street Bridge in St. Charles facing south, and the first thing you'll notice is development - new mixed-use buildings, parking decks and streetscape improvements that have transformed the First Street corridor into a business-centric hub of activity.

Turn around and look north, and you'll see a railroad trestle in the distance, signaling the unofficial boundary of the core downtown and the start of more open space used for parks and recreation.

The properties in between are next on the horizon for St. Charles officials as they begin redefining their vision for the downtown area north of Main Street.

The city's comprehensive plan, initially adopted in 2013, serves as a long-range framework to help guide land use decisions, said Rita Tungare, community and economic development director. With potential recreation and development opportunities forthcoming, the city council suggested updating its plan for the riverfront and the adjacent blocks between Second Avenue and Fourth Street.

The impetus, however, centers around one parcel in particular: the police station.

This fall, the police department will relocate from its existing headquarters at 211 S. Riverside Ave. to a new, state-of-the-art facility on West Main Street. That frees up a "prime" piece of city-owned real estate along the Fox River for possible redevelopment, Tungare said.

"That really was the driving factor," she said. "Rather than looking at that parcel in a vacuum, it was an opportunity to revisit some of the other pieces of property in that area."

City hall, an electric and water building, public parking spaces and the old railroad trestle also are among the sites expected to be included in the comprehensive plan update. On the west side of the river, officials will be looking at the Carroll Tower senior apartments, Salerno's on the Fox, several parking lots, and other residential and commercial properties.

Nearly 200 people attended an April open house where the city sought feedback on the area's future development. Common suggestions included maintaining accessible open space along the river, adding connections to recreational activities, constructing parking decks and multistory buildings on interior blocks and creating a better transition between commercial sites and residential neighborhoods, said Russell Colby, community development division manager.

The community responses were compiled into a report and presented last week to the city's plan commission. The most consistent theme, he said, was that the area should serve as a transition between the urban vibe of First and Main streets and the recreational atmosphere north of the trestle.

Potentially affecting riverfront improvements is the Fox River Corridor Master Plan, which outlines several outdoor amenities and water activities that community leaders have considered creating in downtown St. Charles, Colby said. Proposed attractions include a white-water rafting course, an upgraded riverwalk, a splash pad, a zip line and a nature play area.

Aldermen have yet to decide whether they want to move forward with implementing the Fox River plan, Tungare said, but some elements could be woven into the updated comprehensive plan.

"There's definitely a connection there," Tungare said. "Let the comprehensive plan stand on its own while having an awareness of the concepts presented in the Active River Project."

The plan commission now will begin formulating parameters for the future development and use of properties within the comprehensive plan area. The updated plan will be presented to city council for consideration.

"With all the exciting development activity that we're currently experiencing within our downtown here in St. Charles, taking this step with updating our comprehensive plan will allow us to capitalize on opportunities to continue this momentum and to further enhance economic development," Tungare said. "It's really a step in the right direction."

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