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Zombie malls and other retail centers getting extreme makeovers to keep up with the times

Robert McCoppin, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Home and Consumer News

In West Dundee, village officials say they were forced to buy Spring Hill Mall after it became largely vacant, with no prospects for recovery.

The village has committed $10 million to buy most of the property from Kohan Retail Investment Group, with the sale to close this month, Village Manager Joe Cavallaro said.

The village plans to hire an engineering firm to demolish the mall, except for Kohl’s and a movie theater, which will remain. With public hearings and guidance from consulting firm AECOM, the village will draw up a concept plan to redevelop the 100 acres, likely with mixed uses including apartments or condominiums, office, commercial, and public uses such as a library branch or municipal facilities. The buildout could take a decade or more.

To pay for all that, the village issued $20 million in bonds, to be repaid by property taxes from a Tax Increment Financing district it created in the surrounding retail and industrial area.

The village worked with the previous owner to try to save the mall with a $40 million investment in 2017, but it didn’t pan out. As anchors such as Sears and Macy’s left, the owner didn’t attract replacements.

In neighboring Carpentersville, where the Kohl’s store in the mall will remain in business, Village Board members decided it wasn’t a good idea to buy distressed properties.

“Essentially the decision was philosophical,” Village Manager John O’Sullivan said. “It wasn’t the role of government to be in real estate unless you had a clear identifiable developer. We wish West Dundee well, it’s just not for us.”

Bloomingdale officials faced a similar scenario with Stratford Square, which once brought in $20 million a year in sales tax, but now is mostly empty. The village bought the mall this year for almost $9 million after filing for condemnation against the owner, Namdar Realty Group, as the property fell into disuse.

“The village felt compelled to promote the redevelopment of the mall rather than just waiting for a property owner showing no interest in reinvesting in the community,” Village Manager Pietro Scalera said.


The village conducted a survey of residents and is working with Teska Associates Inc. to develop two concept plans.

Both plans call for town homes, multi-unit residential, office, commercial, surrounding a central green space, restaurants and entertainment, modeled in part on The Glen Town Center in Glenview. Pedestrian supportive development could include wider sidewalks, benches and a cluster of attractions to walk to in a short distance.

“This is a legacy project right in the middle of our community,” Scalera said. “It’s been an important economic engine for so many years. We want to replace it with something sustainable that will add value to our community and make it a destination.”

At Spring Hill Mall, the last tenants, some of whom had just remodeled and moved in, packed up before moving out. Mall walkers took their last steps in the mall, lamenting the loss of the children’s train that ran through the halls, the skylit atrium and synchronized water fountains.

“Keep it the way it is,” Mitzi Bratthauer said. “Don’t knock it down. Use it for something. It’s beautiful.”

At Super Bounce, where kids giggled as they jumped on inflated playhouses, manager Jessica Olvera fondly recalled seeing children come to play over the years.

“It was so nice to watch all the little kids grow up,” she said. “We’re sad to see it go.”

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