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updated: 7/17/2012 10:34 PM

Westfield Hawthorn Mall expansion plan includes movie theater

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A 12-screen movie theater with room for 1,600 film fans is the centerpiece of a proposed expansion at Vernon Hills' Westfield Hawthorn Mall, according to plans unveiled Tuesday.

Proposed as a two-story structure, the theater would be built on the north side of the building between the existing JCPenney and Sears. Shops and restaurants would occupy 19,000 square feet on the ground floor, and the movie screens would fill the upper floor.

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Westfield representatives presented the plans to the village board and planning and zoning commission during a special joint meeting at village hall. The presentation, complete with a slideshow of architectural plans and artistic renderings, comes a few months after preliminary expansion plans were first made public and nine years after Westfield's last expansion proposal.

"We're really excited to be here in front of the village again," Westfield Development Director Hide Kashima said. "We know it's been a while."

Westfield officials are negotiating a lease with a theater operator, Kashima said, so he couldn't reveal the name of the company.

Theater patrons would be able to enter the building through the mall or a new exterior entrance, Kashima said. The theater space would include a bar for patrons, he said.

In addition to the movie theater, the mall's other entrances would be remodeled. New facades, signs and landscaping are planned, village documents indicate.

New LED-illuminated tenant signs are planned for the intersection of Route 60 and Milwaukee Avenue at the southeast corner of the mall, as are LED panels at the building entrances.

Negotiations also are under way with a restaurant that would take over the vacant Ruby Tuesday space on the mall's south side, Kashima said.

The exteriors of the mall's anchor stores would not change. Those companies -- Macy's, Carson Pirie Scott, Sears and JCPenney -- independently own their spaces.

The expansion could cost between $40 million and $50 million, according to earlier estimates. Westfield wants tax rebates from the village to help fund the work, and village officials are open to such a deal.

Neither the village board nor the plan commission voted on the plan Tuesday. Rather, members of the two groups primarily asked questions about exterior construction materials and aesthetic issues.

Some officials shared concerns about signs, but trustee Thomas Koch was among those on the dais who spoke positively of the project.

"It brings a late 20th century mall into the 21st century," he said.

Votes on the desired sales tax rebate, signs and necessary special-use permits will come after more discussions, officials said.

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