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Poll Question: To Strip Mall or Not to Strip Mall?

Sooner or later every type of development has to weather a downturn. Strip malls can look particularly ragged. Is that what we want for The Plaza?

If you drive west out Illinois Highway 38, near where Geneva and St. Charles meet, you'll find an empty parcel of land, just east of Randall Road. Weeds poke through where the asphalt has cracked. The land has been scraped, save for a couple of outlot stores that are now empty, too. It's just sitting there. It looks horrible.

It used to be the 294,000-square-foot St. Charles Mall. The mall opened in 1979 and was fairly successful until another mall opened across town. By 1996 the last tenant had closed at the mall. The structure was torn down. Since then, local officials have been trying to figure out what to do with it. Meanwhile, it's an eyesore of a parking lot, a flat, broken monument to a one-dimensional mode of development with no future. Sound familiar?

A few years ago a developer named Shodeen Management proposed an ambitious retail/residential project for the parcel. I've included a couple of images of the site plan and a rough architectural rendering of the kind of buildings being proposed. Ultimately, according to published reports, St. Charles officials voted the proposed project down. I'm not sure why, and it doesn't really matter for our purposes.

Take a look at Google Map image of the site, the site plan and the renderings. Ignore the scale. Some of those buildings are five and six stories. For Evergreen Park, that might well be too dense to fit in with the surrounding community and too much space to dump into a thin real estate market. But consider two-and three-story buildings of the same character and laid out in a site plan that mirrors this one. Buildings built out to the sidewalks, parking decks tucked behind the structures, a mix of styles and heights, walkable and drivable.

Evergreen Park Patch is to discuss and the proposed plans to redevelop it into a strip mall. I encourage you to come out that night and participate in what should be a lively discussion about what, as a community, we would like to see done with one of the most prominent sites in our community. I think I've made my I'd like to see something like what Shodeen proposed for St. Charles, only scaled down.

On the 28th, it's your turn to share your views. But why wait 'till then? Post a comment below and join the discussion.

EP Lover June 06, 2012 at 02:23 PM
I would like to see working, successful examples of the mixed retail/residential development that Mr. Clair continues to promote for EP. In my opinion, citing successful examples is far more compelling than citing proposals that were voted down in other communities. Additionally, it would be useful to see examples in communities comparable to EP in terms of location, population and demographics. I suspect that Mr. Clair's suggestions may be too gentrified for a community like EP. Furthermore, I am very skeptical that there would be interest (paritcularly in this weak real estate market) in housing so close to retail establishments. I am not a big fan of the big box strip mall development model but am not even remotely convinced that Mr. Clair's proposals are reasonable alternatives. However, I am open to reconsidering the latter opinion if presented with successful, working options.
Chris Clair June 11, 2012 at 06:10 PM
EP Lover, here's one proposal that's working, in Winter Park, Fla. Click this link and scroll down to page 8: http://www.bkurbandesign.com/otr/otr_mallredevelopment.pdf. I think there is still too much surface parking in this example, but it clearly shows how a "Main Street" concept can be created out of a dead mall site. I completely agree that successful examples are best and I will be compiling a list of examples of successful mall redevelopment into town centers for the forum. Respectfully, I don't think creating a town center necessarily equals gentrification. There's no law that says only the upper middle class or the rich should have access to walkable communities. Up until about 60 years ago, traditional town centers were the standard mode of development. My suggestion is simply to return to that, since it worked for thousands years prior to the mass production of automobiles. I look forward to seeing you at the forum and to a lively dialogue.

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