A $50 million makeover at Westfield Hawthorn mall, the heart of Vernon Hills' vast commercial landscape, is taking shape with one of the key elements set to debut later this month.
Construction has continued for months at the regional center at routes 60 and 21, with the most extensive piece of four distinct improvements in the beginning stages.
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Essentially, the work at the 70s-era mall is focused at and around the four main entrances and will include the addition of several restaurants, a Dave & Buster's arcade/restaurant and a 1,200-seat AMC theater.
"They've updated two of the entrances (and) ultimately, they'll have all four updated," said Mike Atkinson, the village's building commissioner. Among the changes are new entry doors, signage and the use of translucent glass, he said.
"It's backlit and it looks really cool at night," Atkinson added.
On the southwest corner, the facade has been redone and work continues on a Maggiano's Little Italy restaurant, scheduled to open in early summer.
The most work to date has been in the southeast area, where Dave & Buster's chain on March 26 is scheduled to open it's first Lake County location. Work on a Smashburger restaurant also is in progress there, with a summer opening envisioned.
A covered entrance is planned for the northwest corner, Atkinson said, but the most dramatic change will be at the northeast section where the AMC theater and six restaurant spaces will be built.
Crews have begun installing 32 caissons that will be sunk 15 feet to 20 feet to support the structure.
"The theater itself will be the third floor of the mall. It goes over a portion of the food court and JCPenney," Atkinson said.
At the March 19 meeting, Westfield is expected to ask the village board for permission to erect structural steel for the addition overnight between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. when the mall is closed. The work is expected to begin in early April and continue until the end of May.
"For safety reasons, they either have to close that portion of the mall while the steel is being set or work at night," Atkinson said.
The six restaurant spaces will be a ground-level expansion to include a variety of design elements to add interest to the facade, Atkinson said.
"The materials and colors will change as you move from tenant space to tenant space," he said. Completion of the theater/restaurants is scheduled for June 2015.
Village officials for more than a decade have been pushing for mall improvements. A $100 million proposal in 2005 was advanced with fanfare but didn't materialize.
The Dave & Buster's opening is the first tangible result of a "long and arduous process," between village officials and Westfield, according to Trustee Jim Schultz and is the start of a transformation of the aging center.
"According to all the marketing research we get, indoor malls that are not destination locations are hurting, across the country," he said. "By creating an entertainment mecca, it can do nothing but help the overall health of the mall."
Two electronic message signs, each just under 40 feet in height to be erected along routes 21 and 60, also will "add pizazz," he said.
The village last June approved a 10-year agreement with Westfiled that could provide nearly $13 million in sales tax rebates.