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Owners have big plans for ailing Charlestowne Mall in St. Charles

After delighting shoppers' kids for 23 years this Italian-made carousel Charlestowne Mall is being offered for sale whoever wants it

After delighting shoppers' kids for 23 years, this Italian-made carousel at Charlestowne Mall is being offered for sale to whoever wants it as the food court around it is being moved and redesigned. | DAVE GATHMAN~SUN-TIMES MEDIA

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Updated: March 21, 2014 3:01PM

ST. CHARLES — For three years, the thousands of film fans who still come to see movies at Charlestowne Mall’s Cinema 18 passed by a banner in the hallway that proudly proclaimed that a Chinese buffet and seafood bar would open in the space across from the cinemas “soon.”

One of the first things the St. Charles mall’s new owners did was to tear down that banner.

The buffet isn’t coming after all. Nor is an indoor skating rink that, at one time, had been announced by the previous owners. Instead, said the new owner is about to begin a massive redesign and remodeling of the property that it hopes will modernize the 23-year-old mall and make it customer-friendly after seven years of decline, said Chuck May, project director for Krausz Companies of San Francisco.

And May has some street cred when he says that. A former senior vice president of Sears’ Homart shopping-center development division, he oversaw the construction of Spring Hill Mall in West Dundee in 1980. He says he also played a role in building or remodeling Northbrook Court, Westfield Fox Valley mall in Aurora and Westfield Hawthorn mall in Vernon Hills.

With 850,000 square feet — two-thirds the size of Spring Hill — Charlestowne is the northern Fox Valley’s second-largest shopping center. It was built in 1991 by Wilmorite Co. of Rochester, N.Y. And for a while, it thrived.

But lately, business has taken a turn for the worst. It still has three fairly busy anchor stores — the Kohl’s, Carson Pirie Scott and Von Maur department stores, plus Classic Cinemas’ busy Charlestowne 18 movie multiplex.

But a Sears store, one of the original anchor stores, closed about two years ago. And Charlestowne now has a hollow core. Besides kiosk businesses and temporary lease-holders such as H&R Block tax preparation, “it has just one legitimate tenant — Lenscrafters,” May said Wednesday.

But after Krausz bought the center last November, it immediately began getting city approval for a major reconstruction and rebranding project. May said construction will begin in May or June that will turn the center into a new creation to be called “The Quad St. Charles” by the time the work is all done in October 2015.

“We did some brainstorming and decided on the name ‘Quad’ because we have four anchors and we’re a four-season mall,” he said — a dig at the Geneva Commons all-outdoors “lifestyle center” that has become one of Charlestowne’s biggest competitors.

As part of the project:

The 100,000-square-foot former Sears store at the mall’s northwest corner will be torn down. Replacing it will be a more convenient entrance to the cinemas, more parking, outdoor patio dining connected with some added restaurants accessible from the parking lot, and space for a yet-to-be-determined free-standing store.

“This area will have a village-street-scene kind of look,” May said,

On the north side, the second-story food court will be demolished, to be replaced by retail space that will extend the front of the building to be more even with the front of Kohl’s and the back of the theaters.

All but one of the five surviving food-court restaurants has closed to make way for the conversion; and the last one, Miyaku Japan Sushi Bar and Grill, will close soon, May said. A new collection of food operators will be recruited for the new food court when it opens in 2015.

Also closed down now at the old food court is the Italian-made carousel, where children rode painted wooden horses for $1 or so apiece ever since the mall opened. May said the carousel is being offered for sale and “we already have a couple of people interested in purchasing it.”

The food court will relocate to the southeast corner of the mall’s upper level, between Carson’s and Von Maur.

“We’ll have a glass-curtain wall so diners in the food court can look out and feel like they’re outdoors,” May said. “We’ll also have a small patio for good-weather outside dining.”

Classic Cinemas will remodel the theater’s lobby and seating.

Along the Main Street (Route 64) side of the mall, a berm will be lowered and lots will be opened up for free-standing restaurants, similar to those located along Route 31 outside Spring Hill Mall. “We looked at that and couldn’t understand why those restaurant sites weren’t created in the first place,” May said. “The Wilmorite people say the city didn’t want that, and city officials say they think Wilmorite didn’t want it.”

The numerous existing skylights will remain in place. “The mall has good bones,” May said. “We like the sunshine that fills the hallways.”

The “Quad St. Charles” name will be phased in gradually over the coming year as the department stores and cinema change their own advertising, stationery and branding that refer now to “Charlestowne” locations.

May said no new tenants have been confirmed yet but “we’re in negotiations with quite a few” possible restaurants and stores.

May said the cost of the conversion is still being determined. He declined to estimate a figure.

He said work will begin in May or June with the demolition of the Sears building and old food court, as well as outdoor work on the berms and utilities needed to make way for the new restaurants along Main Street. Construction then will focus on the interior work next winter, when he expects new tenants to start moving in.

The department stores and cinemas will remain open through the whole process.

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