By RANDY PIERCE
St. Clair Square is alive and well according to Fairview Heights Mayor Mark Kupsky who shared his positive feelings about the status of the mall at a recent meeting of the city council.
Under the segment of the meeting set aside for the mayor’s report, Kupsky began by mentioning the upgrades under way at the Shoppes at St. Clair, that area to the southwest of the main mall property which is anchored by the Barnes & Noble book business and the Red Robin restaurant.
Utilizing a special business district tax designated for this area, Kupsky explained, the owners of St. Clair Square, CBL Properties, currently are working on the entryway just south of the Associated Bank which fronts on Illinois Route 159 and will be adding electronic license plate readers at this location, which has “become an important thing,” he said, because of the way those devices can provide helpful information to law enforcement authorities if needed in terms of criminal action follow up and investigations.
A new sign saying “Fairview Heights,” which Kupsky said was the subject of considerable comment and buzz on social media during the last month, has been added near the Barnes & Noble store as a result of a decision made by CBL, not the city, “to get a little recognition” for the community.
The specific location of the sign, which was criticized by some on social media, Kupsky noted, was selected by CBL because the Illinois Department of Transportation would not allow it on 159 or near the busy intersection of 159 and Lincoln Highway, “because they thought it could cause distraction” due to safety concerns related to the volume of traffic.
Fairview Heights Land Use and Development Director Dallas Alley responded, when asked by the mayor, that this Shoppes at St. Clair Square improvement project is anticipated to be completed by late September or sometime next month.
Kupsky additionally commented that in a recent conversation with the manager of St. Clair Square, Michael Hagen, he learned the mall itself has a tenant space lease rate of 97 per cent now not including the former Sears retail location on the far south end.
Efforts are still under way, as they have been for the past couple of years, Kupsky added, to find an interest that would fill that ex-Sears site but this has been complicated by the owners of it, Transformco, based in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, which has a subsidiary named Transform SR Brands LLC that in 2019 acquired some of the assets of the Sears Holding Corporation.
“They have been difficult to deal with across the country,” Kupsky said, in reference to that group, hesitant to make any movement on what they consider to be valuable asset property.
“The mall’s doing well, it’s beautiful, clean,” Kupsky continued, adding there are some vacancies in the food court, one created when a tenant was unable to renew its lease and chose to leave.
Another factor cited by the mayor in explaining his optimism about St. Clair Square lies in the fact that a similar mall in south St. Louis County, which is also managed by Hagen, has many more vacancies, its filled space standing at 74 per cent.
Stores like Dillard’s and Macy’s are doing well, Kupsky went on, many people are doing fall shopping now, adding that this mall is not only important for Fairview Heights because of the sales tax it generates to support the city’s operations (no local real estate tax is collected here) but also because of the jobs it creates for the entire region.
Following a similar line of thought concerning the positive image of the economy in Fairview Heights, Alderman Brenda Wagner, a member of the city’s business alliance commission, said at its meeting held on Tuesday, September 5, she feels it is important for representatives of the city to “toot our own horn” about the status of such things here with a view toward attracting other retail establishments.
As an example, she cited the success of a new ice cream business which has doubled its rate of sales since expanding into Fairview Heights from its original location in O’Fallon.
Randy Pierce is a reporter for Herald Publications, part of the Better Newspapers Inc. media family.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This story also appears in the October 2023 print edition of the Illinois Business Journal.)