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Article updated: 3/20/2013 4:33 PM

Plans for big Hawthorn overhaul moving forward

By Mick Zawislak

The dotted line still needs signatures but Vernon Hills officials are encouraged that an ambitious plan to expand and renovate Westfield Hawthorn mall finally will get under way.

"The (village) board is encouraged, staff is encouraged, we're certainly moving forward," Mayor Roger Byrne said. "We're not having conversations from a distance." With a series of approvals Tuesday, the village board paved the way for the proposed $40 million to $50 million expansion and renovation of the 1970s-era mall to proceed.

"They have the zoning entitlements in place. They can file for building permits and get their plans in tomorrow but the economic incentive agreement has to be completed," Assistant Village Manager John Kalmar said. "It's a huge milestone."

A potential $7.5 million sales tax rebate package and details regarding the size, style and content for two mall entry signs need to be resolved.

Byrne said it is the farthest any mall upgrade plans have come. A $110 million proposal in early 2005 to expand and create a lifestyle center wowed village officials but fizzled without action.

About a year ago, Westfield introduced a scaled-down vision to re-brand the 1.3 million-square-foot mall as an entertainment destination. That would be done, in part, by upgrading the three entrances, adding several restaurants, including the Dave & Buster's arcade chain, and possibly other uses.

The centerpiece would be a $6 million, 12-screen AMC theater at a new entrance between Sears and JCPenney, with space for restaurants beneath the theater. The four mall anchors, which own their own properties, are not included in the plan.

The board approved signage, architectural and landscaping plans Tuesday. It also approved ordinances for Westfield to have a movie theater serving alcohol and the Dave & Buster's, which will serve alcohol and have as many as 200 electronic games.

The board informally agreed to create a new liquor license classification for the theater and add licenses for the amusement devices. The guidelines for theater alcohol sales would be similar to those at the AMC Randhurst 12 in Mount Prospect.

"I'm very comfortable with this. They've had no problems whatsoever enforcing this," Police Chief Mark Fleischhauer told the board.

The theater is the key to the entire project, Byrne said.

"I'll feel more comfortable when I actually see the AMC lease signed," he said.

The village in recent years has entered into several sales tax rebate arrangements to fill vacant buildings and to build the Mariano's grocery store. Westfield has asked for $7.5 million over 20 years but the final numbers, conditions and other details are being worked out.

Westfield also proposed 48-foot entry signs with electronic display panels. But village officials said that's too tall and also had questions regarding content on the panels. Those aspects will be considered by the board at a future date.

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