Buffalo Grove's efforts to create a downtown have been reminiscent of Don Quixote.
The village may have been tilting at windmills when it developed the Town Center, which was intended to be a downtown but managed only to become an oversized strip mall, with vacant storefronts and failed grocery stores.
Now, the village could be on the verge of achieving its impossible dream.
At Monday's village board meeting, Chuck Malk, who created a successful retail development in Deerfield more than a decade ago, came armed with plans for what could be the biggest development in the village's history.
It calls for the creation of a downtown in the heart of what is now the village campus and the village-owned Buffalo Grove Golf Club.
The development would be on 65 acres and include 400,000 square feet of retail -- 320,000 square feet of stores and 55,000 square feet for sit-down and casual restaurants.
There would be 66,000 square feet of office space, a 45,000-square-foot movie theater and 60,000 square feet devoted to cultural amenities, such as a community center or museum. A three-acre "European Plaza" would have an open green, an outdoor stage, a Millennium Park-style fountain and Bellagio-style fountains at the entrance.
The plan calls for three towers, two eight stories tall and one 10 stories tall, with 266 owner-occupied residences. Another 325 rental units would be on the upper floors of the retail/office buildings. A parking structure is also planned.
Village Manager Dane Bragg said the $320 million project would conservatively generate $100 million in annual retail sales and $2 million in sales taxes for the village.
"The potential is enormous," said Village President Jeffrey Braiman, adding, however, "There is a lot of work to be done."
That work includes resolving the loss of open space now provided by the golf course, the creation of a new zoning district and, not least, the financing.
"This, to me, is the beginning of a journey," Braiman said. "This concept is different from any place around, even The Glen or Deer Park, because it integrates the municipal, the private and the public aspect."
The current village campus -- village hall, the police department and public works -- would be torn down and rebuilt into the new project, on the north side.
About half of the golf course would be taken up. Bragg said a market study would help them determine if they should put a nine-hole course on the other half, or use the property for something else.
One of the major challenges will be stormwater management. The golf course, which lies within a 100-year floodplain, was built to address flood issues. Bragg said flood mitigation could cost as much as $20 million.
He said the project would involve a variety of funding sources, public and private. Available options include creating tax increment financing and special service areas, in which property tax money from the project flows back into paying for some of the development costs.
The next step is to create a development committee that includes representatives from the developer, the village board, the plan commission and village staff. The village and the developer would also have to work out a development agreement.
Trustee Jeff Berman said when he first heard the idea he was somewhat cynical.
"And then they came in and I looked at the drawings and I looked at the concept and I looked at the ideas and I started to drool," he said. "Frankly, I think the concept is fabulous. It's a game changer, but ... the devil is in the details."
He told Malk, "The one thing that I heard uniformly is that you are a man of your word and you deliver what you promise."
Malk responded, "If you give me the football, I'll get across the line."
Malk, with CRM Properties Group, said he contacted Buffalo Grove some months ago, with initial discussions revolving around redeveloping the Town Center shopping area. What emerged from those discussions, though, was the current proposal.
"The way this particular project has been designed, it allows for great visibility to your neighbor, so you feel part of the social membrane of Buffalo Grove," he said. "It will have community events 52 weeks a year. There (will be) something going on there all the time. That's where retail has to go.
"And the fortunate thing is, because you are building a downtown, you can provide all those elements."
Malk anticipates the project will be built in phases. If the residential market bounces back, the project can take five or six years. Otherwise, it will probably be six to eight years.
Trustee Beverly Sussman said the project would bring badly needed jobs to the area.
However, she also questioned Malk's experience in Deerfield, where "as the result of the shopping center being built, things happened to the trustees. They were not re-elected."
Malk said when he went to Deerfield he bought the center there, and asked the village to help him condemn the balance of the properties.
"We first tried to make partners out of the other property owners, and that didn't appear to be a viable concept," he added.
"So we then had to go to quick-take condemnation and TIF," Malk said adding they conservatively had 40 to 50 public hearings, which packed the high school a number of times.
"There was a lot of misrepresentation by former property owners, which created conflict, but we got through it and we have a very viable downtown (in) Deerfield."
Malk also had one of the first developments in the River North area of Chicago and retail development in the area of North and Clybourn in Chicago, in what was once an industrial area.
Trustee Lester Ottenheimer asked if this project sounds the death knell for Town Center.
Malk doesn't think so.
"I think Town Center will evolve into something very valuable," Malk said. "I think it will either become a residential or a bigger box component, but it will be something ancillary to this particular development."