Macy's is getting ready to launch a new era at Gurnee Mills.
One of the country's top retailers will officially open its latest Lake County store at 10 a.m. Wednesday in Gurnee. While it'll be Macy's first venture in a mall known for outlet and value shopping, the 149,000-square-foot store will be in Gurnee Mills' new full-price wing.
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Mayor Kristina Kovarik has talked up Macy's for a while, saying it's an important piece of the megamall's makeover and already has triggered inquires from other major retailers that might want to follow the store into the village. Gurnee Mills provides the lion's share of the village's sales tax revenue.
Kovarik said she came away impressed with Macy's after attending a special shopping event Saturday that helped to raise money for some local nonprofit agencies. In particular, she said, the store has a bright interior and clean layout that led her to departments she typically would not visit on her shopping excursions.
Other stores in Gurnee Mills' full-price area are opening as well this week, including Victoria's Secret PINK, Bachrach and Crazy 8. Kovarik said Macy's and the others retailers offer upscale brands that previously were unavailable in Gurnee Mills, which forced residents to make purchases elsewhere.
"Consumers are fickle," she said. "We all know that. You have to constantly reinvent yourself."
Macy's officials are upbeat about the company becoming part of Gurnee Mills.
"We are thrilled to be the anchor of Gurnee Mills' full-price wing and an active community partner with the village of Gurnee," said Kristen Cox, a Macy's executive vice president and regional director of stores.
In November 2011, trustees voted 5-1 in favor of spending a maximum of $10 million in public money that was borrowed through a bond sale so Macy's could open in the village through upgrades at Gurnee Mills.
Gurnee village board members approved borrowing the $10 million through issuance of Midwestern Disaster Area Bonds, a low-interest federal program that was meant to help Illinois counties that sustained flood damage in 2008. Representatives from the mall's parent company, Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group, said the improvements and Macy's wouldn't be possible without the public money.
Kovarik said she expects Macy's and the other changes should position Gurnee Mills for another 20 years of relevance.
"Without this (improvement), eventually, another decade from now, that mall would have been empty," she said.
But a prominent Chicago retail expert and a village trustee disagreed with the mayor's portrayal of a possibly bleak future for Gurnee Mills without the addition of Macy's and the other stores.
John C. Melaniphy said Gurnee Mills' off-price retailers continue to draw patrons from a wide area. The founder of Melaniphy and Associates Inc. has been a real estate economist and market analyst for more than 40 years.
Melaniphy said his company's recent research shows Gurnee Mills still attracts suburban Milwaukee shoppers and receives up to 20 percent of its business from southeastern Wisconsin. He said he was not surprised that Macy's is now in the mix at Gurnee Mills.
"Gurnee Mills has had its ups and downs for a long time," Melaniphy added.
Trustee Don Wilson, who joined the village board in May, said officials should start focusing on improving the aesthetics of neighborhoods, and caution must be exercised before pursuing any future deals with public money similar to the one that helped to lure Macy's to Gurnee Mills.
"I don't believe that an awesome mall like Gurnee Mills in a blossoming town is ever on its last leg," Wilson said Monday.
Village officials project $16.6 million in sales tax revenue for the fiscal year that started May 1 and runs through April 30, 2014. If the projection holds, the sales tax would increase by $325,000 or 2 percent from the last budget year.
Sales tax represents 48 percent of Gurnee's general fund revenue.
Gurnee Mills opened in 1991. The mall was a pioneer in the Chicago region with its bargain-hunting concept, with followers including Prime Outlets Huntley in 1994 and Chicago Premium Outlets in Aurora in 2004.