Downtown Overlay District Promotes Pedestrian Access to Shopping and Entertainment

Posted June 5th, 2014 in general, planning by Rita Tungare

People Sidewalk PortraitWhat exactly is St. Charles’ Downtown Overlay District and what does it mean to businesses here in St. Charles?

The Downtown Overlay District was established in a 2006 Zoning Ordinance to identify the type of businesses that should occupy street-level spaces downtown. Simply put, the ordinance reserves ground-floor spaces for businesses that are expected to generate foot traffic downtown or fit in with the walkable shopping, dining and entertainment businesses in the area. In November 2013, the City Council modified the restrictions to include certain types of professional offices as well, subject to review and approval.

In general, the Council feels it is best to foster a downtown that offers the economic and lifestyle benefits of a walkable downtown with pedestrian access to a variety of venues.

What Happens When a Business Requests Special Review of First-Floor Occupancy Downtown?

There is a specific certification process that office businesses must follow to be considered for review under the Downtown Overlay District ordinance. This happened earlier this year when ALE Solutions, Inc., which occupies the entire second and third floors of the Fox Island Square building at 1 West Illinois St., made such a request.

Recent growth of ALE Solutions, which finds temporary housing for people across the country whose homes were devastated by disasters, prompted them to move into a portion of the first floor of the Fox Island building. However, upon review of the application, City staff concluded that because the vast majority of ALE Solutions customers are not physically present in St. Charles, the business does not generate sufficient pedestrian activity to be compatible with a pedestrian-oriented district.

The Planning & Development Committee agreed. At the April 21 meeting, City Council gave ALE Solutions extra time (90 days vs. 30) to relocate the handful of employees that had moved onto the first floor. The City is actively working with ALE Solutions to find an alternative location downtown for these employees.

Why Walkability Downtown Matters

Having a downtown that is fueled by pedestrian traffic enhances not only the economic competitiveness of the businesses located there, it also creates a vibrant, inviting space for residents and visitors alike to enjoy the shopping, entertainment and cultural options available.

Rita Tungare is Director of Community and Economic Development for the City of St. Charles. For more information about the Downtown Overlay District, contact Tungare at rtungare@stcharlesil.gov or 630-377-4443.

St. Charles Participates in Disaster Response and Recovery Course

Posted August 1st, 2012 in city projects, general, partnerships & collaboration, planning by btownsend

During the week of July 9th, staff from several city departments were at the Emergency Management Institute (EMI) in Emmitsburg, Maryland to participate in the Integrated Emergency Management Course (IEMC).

City staff participated in IEMC with representatives from other St. Charles governments, neighboring cities and villages, as well as other local emergency management agencies.  Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Paul Bumba assembled a team of 63 people from all city departments as well as the following agencies:

  • City of Batavia
  • City of Geneva
  • DuPage County OEM
  • Tri-Com Central Dispatch
  • Kane County Health Department
  • Southern Fox Valley Emergency Medical System
  • Kane County Sheriff’s Office
  • American Red Cross
  • Village of Campton Hills
  • Salvation Army
  • School District 303
  • St. Charles Park District

The IEMC is a week-long education and training session on community response to disasters or emergencies and short-term recovery issues. Topics covered included:

  • Emergency Operations
  • Public Information
  • Fire and Law Enforcement
  • Emergency Medical Services
  • Public Works
  • Staff Support and Stress Management
  • Mass Care (Sheltering, Feeding)
  • Damage Assessment
  • Disaster Recovery

The city had to file an application in order to participate and demonstrate a willingness to commit the time and resources necessary.  EMI only offers 15 community specific classes per year, so it is an honor to participate. Thanks to the efforts of Fire Chief Patrick Mullen and Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Paul Bumba, the city’s application was accepted. Nearly all costs for participation were paid for by a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The learning at IEMC is specifically tailored to fit the community. At the end of the week, the group applied skills learned during an exercise that was developed based on a mock disaster event in St. Charles – a tornado that occurred during the annual Pride of the Fox Riverfest.

The training provided opportunities for city staff to work together – and with those that we may call on during a community emergency. It was a very unique opportunity for St. Charles and everyone that attended was grateful for it.

You can get information about what to do in the event of a disaster, including an Emergency Preparedness Guide, from the city’s website. 

City staff proposes East Main Street Business District

Posted October 12th, 2011 in city projects, partnerships & collaboration, planning by btownsend

On Monday evening, the City Council’s Planning & Development Committee heard a proposal from Economic Development Director Chris Aiston to study the creation of a new Business District in the East Main Street area. This is an idea that has been developed over the past several months as a result of discussion internally about the question, “What steps can the City of St. Charles take to encourage redevelopment and reinvestment in east side businesses?”

The East Gateway area of St. Charles and the East Main Street corridor have ample opportunities for redevelopment. There are many vacant properties and other parcels that are underutilized. Those include Tin Cup Pass, the former Baker’s Square, the former Rex’s Cork & Fork restaurant, the former Bennigan’s restaurant, the former Richards Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge auto dealership, the 1501 E. Main Street property, and, of course, the Charlestowne Mall.

Residents have also noted that the East Main Street corridor seems to lag behind other areas of the community. In the 2009 Priorities Survey, almost 70% of respondents rated the appearance of East Main Street as “average,” “poor,” or “very poor.” It was the lowest rated corridor in St. Charles.

Staff is suggesting that the City Council consider the merits of establishing a Business District for the entire East Main Street corridor in order to enhance our economic development efforts. A Business District is a distinct geographic area that, once established, would permit the City to enact a special sales and/or hotel tax. The sales and/or hotel tax proceeds can then be used for a variety of activities including land assembly, public infrastructure improvements, site preparation, and advertising. In short, this is an opportunity to provide incentives for redevelopment and marketing activities. This document provides more details about Business Districts. You can see Chris Aiston’s full presentation to the Planning & Development Committee here.

At a forum held last week, business and property owners said that improving retail on the east side of the city is their #1 goal for the city as it forms a new comprehensive plan. This proposed Business District is one way to achieve that. The proposed district would impose a tax on purchases in this corridor to generate revenue to support additional development and leverage investment in the area.

Pursuant to state law, there are specific criteria that must be satisfied to create the Business District. While staff believes that the East Main Street area has lagged other areas of the city in development/redevelopment, we do not know if the area qualifies until a detailed study is conducted. At this time, city staff has requested permission from the City Council to study this idea and report the results. The Council’s decision is expected on October 17th.

What are your thoughts on the East Main Street corridor? Do you believe that an additional .25% sales tax to support redevelopment would be beneficial to the area? Or, would it cause you to change your shopping habits and drive to other areas?

A “behind the scenes” look at progress on 1st Street

Posted April 27th, 2010 in about, city projects, general, partnerships & collaboration, planning by btownsend

On Tuesday, April 27th, representatives of 1st Street LLC and the City of St. Charles conducted a tour of the Plaza Building to view progress on several tenant spaces that have recently opened, or are scheduled to open in the next few weeks.      

It was exciting to see the new activity and to hear from business owners who are so pleased with the 1st Street project and have made a decision to invest in downtown St. Charles.      

Here are some photos from the tour and the business owners that we met along the way.       

Mara Hauser, owner of The Hauser Group, explains the company’s business to Mayor DeWitte and Phil Wilmington from 1st Street LLC.
Boudoir, a nail salon, is scheduled to open in the next few days.
Richard and Jill Card, owners of Jeans & A Cute Top Shop, talk to Mayor DeWitte about what brought them to St. Charles.

   

This photo shows the progress on the interior build-out of Prasino, a new restaurant scheduled to open by July 1st.The interior of Brix Wine & Cheese is ready for furniture and fixtures.

 

The “St. Charles challenge” in retail development

Posted April 6th, 2010 in about, city services & programs, planning by btownsend

Frequently, I get asked, ” Why can’t St. Charles get X to come to town?”

X might be a high-end steak house or an upscale apparel retailer or a big box that specializes in hunting/fishing/camping products.  Local residents see some of these stores opening in other nearby suburban areas and ask themselves, “Why not St. Charles?”  

We all want the best in retail opportunities for the community and while there are many circumstances that impact retailer decision-making (the state of the economy being the most important), the answer to the question in most cases has to do with the amount of total purchasing power of the market area.

St. Charles is widely known as an affluent community with relatively high household incomes. This is an advantage for us. But, retailers don’t just look at household income. They also want to know how many households there are within a given distance or “drive time.” In short, wealthy consumers are good, but having more of them is better.

Here is some of the text from a response that St. Charles received from a retailer that analyzed our market (the details have been removed to protect the highly confidential and proprietary nature of the information related to this company’s market criteria):

Dear Mayor Dewitte – I am in receipt of your nice letter regarding X and appreciate your taking the time to further describe the development initiatives taking place in and around your community. Of course, most of this is not new to me being a long time proponent of placing X in St. Charles. Though I do not normally do this, I have attached a copy of our internal demographic depictions which illustrates the problem. You will note on our demographics that I have given all manner of favoritism to the St. Charles site. Notwithstanding these efforts, I cannot get the trade area population that is left to exceed 87,000 people….thus illustrating the problem that the CEO has continuously and legitimately voiced with the market.

 

To determine St. Charles’ relative strength in terms of actual buying power, the City’s Economic Development Department has conducted some comparative analyses between St. Charles and 6 other major commercial centers in the Chicagoland suburban area:

  1. Yorktown Mall (Lombard),
  2. Oak Brook Shopping Center,
  3. The Arboretum (South Barrington),
  4. Downtown Naperville,
  5. Old Orchard (Skokie), and
  6. Woodfield Mall (Schaumburg)

The analysis is predicated on market reach, as determined by fixed drive times – a frequent variable in retail location decisions. When considering median household income for persons residing within a 15-minute drive time, St. Charles (measured from the center of downtown) compares favorably to all 6 markets studied.  In short, St. Charles is an attractive location from this perspective.

However, a market’s median household income data represents only a part of the equation in determining its household buying power. That equation must also consider the total number of households (or customers) within the defined market.  When looking at these same markets, at 10, 15, and 20-minute drive times, in ALL cases, the St. Charles market buying power is vastly exceeded by the comparative commercial centers. By way of example, within a 15-minute drive time, the comparison centers range from 1.7 (The Arboretum) to 4.6 (Oakbrook) times the buying power of the St. Charles market.

The graph above portrays the above-described comparison between household buying power for the aforesaid market areas (excluding expenditures for transportation and housing).  The greater the reach, typically, the larger the delta between St. Charles and each of the other 6 markets.  Again, this is a function of surrounding land use patterns and the low concentration of residences. 

We love our natural areas and open space in Kane County. It makes for lower traffic volumes, greater recreational opportunities, and a more attractive place to live. However, it also removes land from the “market” and provides fewer opportunities for development. Other land uses, such as the DuPage Airport, golf courses, mega-churches, and large-lot residential development also impact the buying power of St. Charles.

Let me be clear – I am not saying that the wrong choices have been made with regards to land-use decisions. I am only saying that we must consider the impact of these decisions on the ability to attract commercial development (quality and quantity).

Additionally, current trends in housing starts, and the real estate market in general, do not bode well for any dramatic change in circumstances or a resulting increase in our local market buying power. 

While St. Charles compares favorably with other suburban retail markets in terms of household affluence, we lag in terms of total buying power due to a greatly reduced number of households/consumers. This serves as one of the primary reasons that some retailers will not consider the Tri-Cities area. It also serves as one of the primary challenges that St. Charles faces in attempting to attract some high-end retailers and restaurants to our community.

While more residences in the market area would increase our purchasing power, many other criteria are, and should be, considered as part of the decision-making process.

First Street excels during downturn

Posted March 5th, 2010 in about, city projects, partnerships & collaboration, planning by btownsend

  

Progress in bringing new stores and restaurants to St. Charles has accelerated in the past few months with many new establishments opening, or planning to open, in the First Street area. The developers of the project, 1st Street LLC, have recognized the need to be aggressive, and offer attractive and flexible leasing terms to businesses. Those efforts have paid off with leasing of retail space approaching 90%.  

The fantastic bakery Il Giardino del Dolce offers wonderful pastries and cookies (I love their coffee cakes). And, they offer delicious sandwiches and pizza slices at lunch. JP Jewelers is also located on 1st Street and the owner is a local resident who is well-known for his strong attention to the customer and providing quality products.   

The most recent addition is Wok n’ Fire restaurant. If you haven’t been there yet, I highly recommend it. And from the large number of people dining (or waiting to dine), I’d say I’m not alone. The Pan Asian cuisine is fantastic and the decor adds to the quality of the dining experience.  

Tenants that have signed leases and will open during 2010 include:   

  • Prasino restaurant
  • Ginger Root Hair Salon
  • Boudoir French – a themed nail salon and day spa
  • Jeans and a Cute Top Shop – women’s apparel (opening their 2nd store – the original location is in Wheaton)
  • Brix Wine and Cheese
  • Pizzeria Neo – a brick oven pizza restaurant

These tenants will contribute to the new energy in downtown St. Charles that has been spurred by existing tenants and other area businesses including Za Za Trattoria, Eddie Caruso salon, and Rx Cafe (in the former Knight’s Court space on Main Street).  

And, it has been recently announced that McNally’s Irish Pub will be moving to the 1st Street area by Memorial Day, 2010. Maurice McNally has purchased the former Miguel’s restaurant space at 109 W. Main Street and will be starting the renovation process soon.  

   

Main Street facade of the new McNally's

 

  

If you haven’t been to First Street recently, make it a priority. You can obtain quality products and services from top-notch businesses. And, you can park in the clean, safe, and convenient parking structure located in close proximity to all of these establishments.  

Come to 1st Street and see what you’re missing!

What’s happening at Charlestowne Mall?

Posted March 5th, 2010 in about, planning by btownsend

The subject of Charlestowne Mall comes up in many conversations that I have with people throughout the community. Whether you live downtown, on the east side, or on the west side, people are curious. So, let me share what we know.    

Charlestowne Mall on East Main Street in St. Charles

First, the mall property is part of an investment vehicle called a REMIC that pools commercial mortgages and then issues securities to investors. A company in Overland Park, Kansas services the Charlestowne REMIC and has been working to sell the property for several months.   

Second, the City has learned of two bona fide interests to purchase the property. One of these offers has resulted in an executed purchase contract. The contract is still open, with the buyer group continuing its due diligence. The City has been informed that a sales agreement appears to be in the works and that a closing could take place in a few weeks.   

Having said that, we know that things can happen to cause pending sales of this magnitude to go awry. For that reason, we must remain cautiously optimistic.   

The good news is that we have a very willing seller in this case. Further good news is that the City stands ready to assist both a prospective buyer and the seller to facilitate the sale and revitalization of this critical property.   

The unfortunate news is that while the negotiations continue, leases may expire without renewal and/or extension. As such, while stores continue to close, it is likely that, at least for the time being, the Charlestowne Mall occupancy rate will not get better and could very well worsen.   

   

If there is some silver lining to the otherwise cloudy forecast, we understand that Classic Cinemas and the 4 anchors (Kohls, Carsons, Sears and Von Maur) are more or less holding their own – within the context of an overall tough economy, of course – and the City has heard nothing about any of these five businesses having any current plans to vacate the mall.   

As soon as a sale is concluded, it will be in everyone’s best interest to make the transaction public – generating new interest and buzz. We also hope that plans for revitalization will soon follow.