ST. CHARLES — If you drive past the business park on Interstate 90 at St. Charles, you won't see empty fields and a lonely sign advertising lots for sale.
What you will find is a viable commercial space with more businesses on the way.
On Aug. 13, the St. Charles City Council extended a memorandum of understanding with HK Hospitality to develop a hotel at the city’s business park on I-90, the third time that MOU has been extended. What's different this time is that HK Hospitality has partners helping it work on the project.
"Because of the increase of the people here, my confidence level has increased," St. Charles Mayor John Schaber said.
The Long Game
When North Star Foods burned in 2009, St. Charles lost its largest employer and a big piece of its tax base. In response, the city council decided to dust off an old plan to build a commercial business park on I-90, running roads, sewer and water out to the site.
However, getting tenants to buy land and invest in St. Charles took time. The economy was down, and business investment was scarce.
But, eventually, the business park started attracting attention. Local business Active Tool & Die moved in. Envirolastech put up a facility, though that has since closed.
But this week, a new business has opened its doors. Well, technically, Envirolastech's doors.
Whitewater Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram, a new automobile dealership and service center, is working out of the Envirolastech building while its new headquarters is under construction across the street.
"Just yesterday, we brought in our first technician," said Mark Saba, dealer principal and president of the dealership. Saba also owns a Dodge-Ram dealership in Burnsville. "We're working out of the Envirolastech building, but we can sell and service cars."
More Business Coming
The new auto dealership is just the first of a pair of businesses that have committed to opening their doors at the business park.
Last November, Love's Travel Stops & Country Stores Inc. bought 6.83 acres at the site for $683,000. The company has said it plans to break ground in 2020 for its gas station, which will include restaurants and truck fueling.
Jim Kelley, one of the principles of HK Hospitality, the company that hopes to build a hotel at the commercial site, said all those other businesses make it easier to find investors for the hotel deal.
"Love's coming to fruition and the dealership coming to fruition, it makes investors much more interested," Kelley said.
Kelley said he "damn well" hopes the extension of the MOU will be the last extension that is needed. "We're much closer now," he said.
Architectural firm DesignWise, US Bank, builder Krause Anderson and others are part of a team advising HK Hospitality on its efforts to help make the hotel a reality. Like Schaber, Kelley said the added players are a sign the hotel is more and more likely.
Saba agreed, saying, "Us being up there, I think, makes it easier to get the others up there."
And having neighbors will be a boon to the dealership as well.
"It doesn't seem like the hotel might impact us, but you get more traffic up there," Saba said. "Any traffic is good for all of our businesses."