With more hotel rooms than residents, the tiny village of Rosemont has long been a suburban hub for conventions, sports and entertainment.
Now the landscape of the village -- already dotted with giants like the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, Allstate Arena and Akoo Theatre, as well as newer venues like an upscale movie multiplex and the Chicago Bandits women's softball stadium -- has been dramatically altered to expand the village's entertainment empire.
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Not getting a casino in this mix was probably the best thing to happen to Rosemont, Mayor Bradley Stephens says as his town gears up for the opening of The Park At Rosemont restaurant and entertainment district on the site where the casino was planned for years.
The 200,000-square-foot district featuring entertainment, dining and festival space debuts with the opening of the Irish Five Roses Pub Wednesday and the 22-lane King's Lanes & Lounge May 2 -- the first of eight venues to be rolled out this spring and summer.
The district, situated just west of River Road and north of Balmoral Avenue fronting the northbound Tri-State Tollway, is flanked by Muvico Theater to the north and Akoo Theatre (formerly called the Rosemont Theatre) and a future outlet mall on the south.
"We're trying to create something that nobody else has," Stephens said. "It augments what we have already with the convention business."
Rosemont already has an eclectic menu of upscale restaurants such as Carlucci Italian Restaurant & Banquets, Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse, Mortons Steakhouse and Rosewood. What it lacked was midrange eateries that would appeal to employees of corporations headquartered in town, residents and the masses of people expected to shop at the Fashion Outlets of Chicago, Stephens said.
"We'd like to let them be able to stay in Rosemont and play in Rosemont when it comes to nightfall," Stephens said. "This is filling a void that currently existed. When the mall opens in 2013, you're going to need a place for (shoppers). We're trying to create our own ... we are not trying to take anybody's business."
Stephens said the district's remaining tenants add to its international flavor -- Taverna Opa Greek restaurant, Adobe Gila's Mexican restaurant, Toby Keith's "I Love This Bar & Grill," The Park Tavern, Zanies Comedy Night Club and Hofbrauhaus beer hall, which should be the last to open by late summer.
All the venues have outdoor patios that face a courtyard where there will be year-round events, including an ice-skating rink that converts into a park in the summer, farmers' markets, concerts, fairs, festivals and exhibition sporting events. An attached covered parking garage will provide spaces for 8,500 vehicles.
Tax windfall likely
Rosemont is expecting a huge payoff for its more than $40 million investment in the district.
Since the village owns the property, annual rent for the eight venues should net more than $3 million. The village estimates The Park at Rosemont will generate between $1 million and $1.2 million in property tax revenue, $450,000 in sales taxes, and $200,000 in food and beverage taxes in its first year. Rosemont also should receive roughly $225,000 in amusement tax revenue yearly, officials said.
The village also is close to a sponsorship deal for two 1,200-square-foot digital billboards to be placed above the center building to be used to publicize events at the Park, Stephens said.
The Park at Rosemont along with the roughly $230 million, 550,000-square-foot outlet mall project planned south of Balmoral Avenue could prove to be the village's most lucrative ventures yet.
Stephens said the outlet mall itself could mean more to the village financially than the arena, convention center and Akoo Theatre combined.
Few Chicago area suburbs have attempted what Rosemont is trying to do, Chicago-based retail analyst John Melaniphy says.
"No one has really been able to do it," Melaniphy said. "At the height of the recession, the metropolitan area went down $14 billion overall in retail sales. The recession has stalled a lot of projects. It stalled Rosemont. This project was planned years ago."
Melaniphy said Rosemont's convention business has declined about 25 percent, thereby affecting its restaurant business, which also dipped significantly.
"At the height (in 2008), Rosemont was doing $165 million in restaurant sales," he said. "It dropped to around $140 million in 2010. Last year, it went to about $146 million. It's turned the corner and it's coming back."
Stephens agrees the convention business is unpredictable, which is why the village is diversifying into the retail market.
"We can't rely on just the convention business. We can't rely on just the arena business. This is another dimension," he said.
Melaniphy said like Rosemont, Naperville is developing a restaurant district along the Reagan Memorial Tollway (I-88) between Diehl Road and Freedom Drive with high-end eateries like Cooper's Hawk, Maggiano's Little Italy and Morton's Steakhouse. But there's little retail in that area to complement it, he added.
Is Rosemont's vision too big for a town that has 5,561 hotel rooms but only 4,202 residents?
"Rosemont is in a good position really because they are right outside of O'Hare (International Airport)," Melaniphy said. "They are on two major interstates. They've got office buildings and hotels. They've built the theaters. They've got the convention center. All of those things feed the entertainment district. If you're going to have an entertainment district, Rosemont is the kind of area that has the greatest potential for success."
However, Melaniphy is cautious about forecasting the future of Rosemont's planned outlet mall, which he thinks is a bit premature for the current market.
"The timing would be wrong if they tried to do it right now," Melaniphy said.
Thus far, 60 percent of the space has been leased for the outlet mall and construction is just beginning on an enclosed parking garage that will have roughly 2,840 spaces. The village-owned garage will be deeded over to the mall developer at the end of the life of the area's tax increment financing district in 2034.
Melaniphy said the only flaw with the mall plan is if shoppers have to pay for parking, which would turn off a lot of customers.
"You can't charge for parking for an outlet mall," he said. "If that's the case, the developer is going to have a tough sell. Consumers are accustomed to free parking and there's lots of competitors with free parking."
Stephens said at least until year end, visitors to the entertainment district will be able to park for free, with validation, on a surface lot across from the businesses. Valet parking also will be offered.
"I think that it needs to open without any fees," Stephens said. "Toward the end of this year, we'll see how many cars get validated."
What to expect
Opening day for the Five Roses Pub -- named in honor of the late Don Stephens' five decades of service to the village -- is expected to be a neighborhood affair.
The 240-seat pub was designed here, but its mahogany woodwork was crafted and shipped from Belfast, Northern Ireland, and then reassembled and installed in Rosemont.
The pub will feature Premier League soccer games on large television screens, live music and traditional Irish food.
"You can't get more authentic than this place," owner Patrick Lyons said. "We don't have any illusions about trying to attract Chicago (customers). We are here to serve Rosemont and the suburbs in the area."
Officials plan to make a bigger splash for Kings Lanes & Lounge with promotional events leading up to a May 2 gala benefiting area charities.
"Kings is definitely not your grandfather's bowling alley," said Lyons, co-founder and co-creator of the Chicago House of Blues.
Lyons morphed from the nightclub business into creating restaurants and upscale bowling alleys, which he calls "the nightclub of the new millennium."
"We set out to maintain the feeling of when bowling was in its heyday in America," Lyons said.
The 30,000-square-foot retro bowling alley sports a 1960s-style decor, comes equipped with 20,000-watt speakers that can be customized for each space, four disco mirror balls in a private bowling area, a billiards lounge, and more than 60 high-density LED television sets.
Customers must be 21 or older to get into the 200-seat restaurant, lounge and bar after 6 p.m. Anyone under 21 is allowed only if accompanied by a parent.
Stephens said as these venues gradually open, more and more developers are reaching out to the village wanting to do projects in town.
"It's catching fire," he said. "We've got really something special here. This was an idea that my dad had, and all we've done is take that idea and see it to fruition. I feel that it's something that he would be very proud of. A lot of the vision that is Rosemont came from my dad."