Chicago suburb to raise revenue by selling guns

St. Charles, Illinois has one solution for communities looking to raise revenues: sell confiscated and used guns back to the public.

But while some Chicago-area communities host buybacks where weapons are turned in and destroyed, one suburban police department is poised to sell about 20 firearms to two licensed dealers, including some guns seized from criminals.

“There’s value in these guns,” said police Chief James Lamkin of west suburban St. Charles. “They’re not illegal guns. Quite honestly, it’s a bottom line for us.”

Though Arizona has just enacted a controversial state law requiring local departments to sell firearms that are surrendered or go unclaimed, the practice appears to be unusual in the Chicago area. The Chicago Police Department and several suburban law-enforcement agencies, as well as Illinois State Police, say they destroy weapons after they’re turned in or no longer needed as evidence…

The choice for a public agency to sell or destroy seized weapons underscores the push in many suburbs to find new ways to generate revenue without raising taxes. The issue also places St. Charles in an unusual position among law enforcement agencies at a time when the gun control debate has been re-energized by the Sandy Hook school shooting and, in Illinois, by the current effort to enact a concealed carry law before a court-imposed June deadline.

My guess is that the negative publicity from a story like this – having a fairly well-off suburb make the front page of the Chicago Tribune for selling guns – outweighs the revenue that may come from selling 20 guns. This is the sort of negative attention that suburbs try to avoid. Yet, this is what happens when many American communities are desperate to find revenues. It would be interesting to see what St. Charles residents think of this. Does this story that could make their community look bad overpower the efforts the local government is making to avoid raising taxes?

What to do when a quiet suburb may have too many downtown bars

Suburbs want their downtowns to be full of businesses, particularly restaurants, because they enhance the community’s tax base and provide a more vibrant atmosphere. But what happens when a suburb has too many downtown bars? Here is the situation in St. Charles, Illinois:

Simpson wants to open a business called the Alibi Bar & Grill at 12 N. Third St. Aldermen told Simpson on Monday that they welcome the “grill” part of his plan, but they aren’t big fans of the “bar” part. Simpson’s plan envisions a “restaurant-style sports bar that will serve American-style food, cocktails, beer and appetizers.” He plans on having live entertainment at the establishment as well. He’s even agreed to close his doors at midnight on Friday and Saturday nights just to win a more favorable view of his liquor license application. But aldermen on the city council’s government operations committee weren’t sold.

“I really don’t think St. Charles needs more bars,” Alderman Cliff Carrignan said…

[St. Charles resident] Amundson lives in the downtown area and said the family-centered community he moved to has evolved into a weekend destination for young people on drinking binges…

Amundson’s comments spurred the rest of the conversation about how many taverns is too many in the city. Staff estimated there are between 50 and 60 restaurants in the city that have liquor licenses. Alderman Jim Martin has long crusaded against city’s tavern density.

St. Charles is a relatively wealthy and quiet yet growing community. While having new business is good, the issue of bars clashes with the community’s character: there is a line between being “family-friendly,” which I think many suburbs would wish to be known as, and having a vibrant restaurant scene, which I think many suburbs would also want. This is the same sort of issue that was brought up in Naperville late last year with a request from Show-Me’s to open a restaurant.

A community could deal with this in a few ways but there are two primary methods of control: zoning and liquor licenses. Certain uses, like tattoo parlors, are often not allowed, but suburbs can go even further to restrict the opening of new banks (Wheaton in more recent years). Restaurants are quite desirable for small downtowns as they can bring in people from outside the community and patrons might also spend money elsewhere in the downtown. At its best, a downtown might create a downtown entertainment district that includes food and entertainment (music, movies, theater, etc.). It sounds like those who are opposed to more bars in St. Charles are not opposed to more restaurants so perhaps the businessman will simply have to drop his request for a liquor license (though this would likely impact his opinion of the profitability of his venture).

More broadly, it sounds like St. Charles needs to make some decisions about what exactly they want in their downtown. Either path, toward families or food and entertainment, could work out but addressing the issue on a case-by-case basis will quickly get frustrating.

St. Charles the #1 city according to Family Circle

Chicago’s western suburbs have received awards in the past. For example, Wheaton was named an All-American city in 1968 and in the 2000s, Naperville was named a top 5 community several times by Money. Now St. Charles, roughly 35 miles west of Chicago, can join the party:

After hearing St. Charles had been named the No. 1 city in the country to raise a family by Family Circle magazine, Ray Ochromowicz said he just wanted to throw his hands in the air…

St. Charles was the only city in the state that made Family Circle’s list.

The magazine chose St. Charles for its “friendly neighborhoods, innovative schools and beautiful parks” according to a news release. The conditions considered were “affordable housing, good neighbors, green spaces, strong public school systems and giving spirits.”…

To get to No. 1, Family Circle selected 2,500 cities and towns with populations between 15,000 and 150,000. It narrowed the list to 1,000, and each town had to have a median income between $55,000 and $95,000. After being graded on criteria, the 10 winners were chosen to be featured in Family Circle, which publishes 15 times a year and has 20 million readers.

See Family Circle‘s top 10 list here. The description of St. Charles is what you would expect from such awards: it has good schools, nice but affordable homes, and there is “community spirit.” (I wonder if it has any problems…)

Based on what other suburban communities have done with these awards, here is what we can expect: St. Charles will feature this award for years and civic leaders can show “proof” of the greatness of their community. Family Circle may not be a big name magazine but it has a monthly circulation of 3.8 million and it appeals to families, exactly the kind of people a place like St. Charles might hope to attract.

Of course, these lists are affected by their criteria. For this Family Circle list, why limit incomes to between $55,000 and $95,000 or set the lower population limit at 15,000? There are certain value judgments present here that might reflect what might motivate a typical American suburban adult to live in a certain community but they might not exactly fit the bill.

Efforts to revive local shopping malls; how about an ice skating rink?

The recent economic downturn has severely affected many retailers, especially shopping malls. One local mall, Charlestowne Mall in St. Charles, has been hit particularly hard and is looking for ways to bring in more shoppers. One idea: build an ice skating rink.

Barring an eleventh-hour change of heart, 94 employees at the Sears store at Charlestowne Mall in St. Charles will lose their jobs in two months. But the mall management and city officials hope to coax the retail giant to stay.

And the city and mall owners see hope in new business coming to Charlestowne, including an ice arena…

There might be reasons to be optimistic about the mall. Anchor stores Kohl’s and Von Maur both own the property they operate, making them less likely to leave. Aiston said the mall also disclosed it’s in negotiations to bring two or three new businesses to the mall, including a restaurant.

In addition, the mall may soon have a new headline attraction. Aiston and Kekatos said the city is reviewing plans the mall owners submitted to build an 18,000-square-foot ice arena at the mall to revive foot traffic.

“What I really want the public to know is our new ownership is fabulous,” Kekatos said. “You have to remember it’s only been going on seven months since they’ve purchased the mall. We’re updating the interior and the exterior of the mall. The community, the people in it, they just don’t understand that it takes time to do all this.”

This seems to be a common strategy for shopping malls: attract new kinds of businesses that will bring in a steady flow of potential shoppers. The restaurant strategy has been a common one – it moves malls beyond the world of the shopping mall food court with its quick food and may bring in a crowd with more time and money. But bringing in a shopping rink hints at another area of potential uses: recreational uses. Could the shopping malls of the future include things like ice skating rinks, gyms, climbing walls, and more? If so, this could help further transform malls from shopping spaces to community centers.

It is also interesting that the quest for developers and mall owners to add uses to shopping malls mirrors the efforts of many downtowns who have also been interested in increasing foot traffic. Of course, the shopping mall is often blamed for helping to kill off many downtowns but perhaps they are both now in the same boat. Are there enough retail and recreational and restaurant businesses to fill all of the space in shopping malls and downtowns?