St. Charles touts First Street plan
(Chicago) Daily Herald, 9/20/04

By Lisa Smith

A new First Street is good for you.

Like a mother trying to coax her child into eating vegetables, St. Charles city officials are gearing up to convince residents and business owners that redeveloping First Street will breathe life into downtown.

First street plans

It's an attempt to counter the backlash that followed the council's decision to take by force several longtime businesses if the owners and city officials cannot agree on a purchase price.

With the first phase of a new $50æmillion redevelopment plan expected to be approved tonight by the city council, officials will have a solid proposal to show residents and business owners wary of change. The developer hopes to complete engineering work in the spring and break ground in the summer.

"The hardest part of this project from beginning has been misunderstanding and lack of communication," Mayor Sue Klinkhamer said.

Klinkhamer said she hasn't heard any criticism of the proposal's latest incarnation, a concept plan created by St. Charles developer Bob Rasmussen and partners unveiled at last week's planning and development meeting. Realizing many people have yet to see it, Klinkhamer hopes to answer their questions before they're asked.

Residents can view the plan and drawings at city hall and, soon, the library. The drawings along with other information about the project also will be included in the upcoming city newsletter, and a news conference will be held to bring even more attention to it.

"The whole concept I think is really well thought out," Klinkhamer said. "Obviously, we're going to open it up to the public."

Klinkhamer is expected to announce today the names of civic and business leaders she has appointed to a committee that will provide input to the plan's developer and spread word about how the plan's realization will benefit St. Charles -- and how leaving things the way they are will cause an eventual downturn.

"I feel strongly if we don't do something, we're going to be very sorry down the road," said Alderman Betsy Penny.

Penny and most other city council members said Rasmussen's plan was an improvement over a similar redevelopment proposal created by the Evanston-based Davis Street Land Co. That company withdrew its plans earlier this year because representatives of the family-owned Blue Goose supermarket would not commit to relocating the business.

Rasmussen's vision, designed with Deerfield-based architect Knauer Inc., incorporates the Blue Goose in its existing location on First Street. It also includes twice as much parking, with a 580-space multi-level garage, a 63-vehicle parking lot and an additional 85 on-street parking spots.

Other highlights include:

  • A community-centered plaza running parallel to Main Street, terminating with a fountain beside the Fox River,
  • Some 235,000 square feet divided almost evenly among retail, office and residential uses (apartments and condominiums, with townhouses planned at a later phase),
  • On-street parking along a widened First Street,
  • An arched pedestrian walkway over First Street linking the parking deck on the west side to the restaurant and office space on the east side,
  • Architecture complementing the city's existing buildings and former businesses, including the Piano Factory.

Although they make up a continuous facade along the west side of First Street, the individual tenants will occupy buildings of varying color, width and roofline type to give the impression that the development took place over a longer period of time.

Alderman David Richards, also director of the Downtown St. Charles Partnership, said the proposal would create a new First Street that is an extension of the existing downtown business district.

Richards was quick to point out that Rasmussen's group did not tout its version as "upscale" -- a buzzword used by the Davis Street representatives that had insulted patrons of The Manor, a longtime downtown casual dining restaurant that likely will be forced to move to make way for the new First Street.

But Rasmussen said he envisions The Manor fitting within the First Street development, albeit in a different spot.

"We left it up to them with the opportunity to relocate in the First Street project," Rasmussen said. "We need a nice breakfast, lunch, dinner casual dining restaurant."

Rasmussen and four of his five partners in First Street Development LLC live in St. Charles. An engineer by training, Rasmussen is co-owner and developer of the Heritage Square One and Two residential and business developments at Fifth and Illinois avenues; West Towne Market on the former General Mills site; Leroy Oaks business park on Dean Street; and the Al Piemonte Cadillac dealership under construction on east Main Street.

First Street, however, would be the Rasmussen's largest project, with an estimated price tag of $50æmillion for the first phase. His previous developments have ranged from $4æmillion to $12æmillion each.

It also would be the biggest redevelopment project in the history of the city, which created a special taxing district to help defray the costs of land acquisition and infrastructure improvements.

On Sept. 10, the city filed eminent domain paperwork seeking to condemn La ZaZa Trattoria and Harris Bank's drive-through location. Proceedings against two other businesses -- Frontier Dodge and St. Charles Cleaners -- were filed in Kane County Court earlier this year, court records show, and the city council has authorized using eminent domain to purchase The Manor and Vi's Last Call, a tavern.

Most city council members tempered their praise of the newest plan by pointing out that it's at the preliminary stage. More detailed plans, coupled with a more specific cost estimate, are expected within the next few weeks.

Members of the public, plan commission and historic preservation committee also are expected to weigh in.

"When people get a chance to see the concept, people will be excited about it," Richards said. "It's good we now have something to show them."

The First Street Project would be city's largest in history

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