St. Charles, Illinois

Illinois | 2000 Great American Main Street Award® Winner | Posted: 4/3/2000

St. Charles (population 26,286), established in 1834, was known as the economic and social core of the city.  It was there where people shopped, conducted city business, used the post office, and found entertainment and dining opportunities.  However, with the population growth of the city, there came suburban sprawl that, along with changes in buying habits and lifestyles, created a multitude of competing destinations for consumers and businesses.  Downtown St. Charles began to suffer economically and socially as demonstrated by its worn infrastructure and real estate, numerous vacancies, negative perception.

Throughout the 1970s and ‘80s, several attempts were made to establish downtown redevelopment programs. These attempts can be summarized as short-lived planning efforts that promoted big, quick-fix solutions and were usually forced on the downtown stakeholders by a small group of investors.  

In 1991, a core group of community leaders, business people, and concerned citizens forged a grassroots alliance to jump-start another revitalization program, but with a new approach – the Main Street approach. The revitalization program that began to take shape was an inclusive, holistic one that invited input and participation from all interests, including many who would not be directly impacted by downtown changes. This group realized that no matter what growth may come to all other areas of town, the downtown area was still the heart and soul of the city and it had to be preserved and revitalized; the Downtown St. Charles Partnership, Inc. (DSCP) was born.  

In the seven years that the Downtown St. Charles Partnership, Inc. has been in existence, downtown St. Charles has undergone dramatic improvements. A total of over $35 million has been invested by the private sector. More than 60 façade projects have been completed at a total cost of over $2.6 million. Downtown St. Charles has received over $20 million in public improvements.  In the last three years alone, the total reinvestment in Downtown St. Charles exceeds $47 million.  During the same three-year period, over 7,500 volunteer hours were logged to DSCP.  In 1998, over $117 of total reinvestment and over $50 of private reinvestment was generated for every $1 spent to operate the Downtown St. Charles Partnership.  In 1999, the private reinvestment ratio climbed to more than $72 to $1, while the total reinvestment ratio remained over $100 to $1.

In recent years, downtown has overcome a major bridge renovation at the center of its business district – threatening businesses. But, through a major marketing campaign of downtown and distributing a “tool kit” to businesses to combat construction, St. Charles has reestablished itself as the social and economic core of its community.