An aging building on a key corner adjoining the Westfield Hawthorn shopping center in Vernon Hills may get a makeover after village officials dismissed plans to replace it with a medical office facility and small retail center.
Rather than demolishing the building at the northwest corner of routes 21 and 60, Chicago-based Centrum Partners LLC will return to the drawing board a third time in its pursuit of a project.
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"We're exploring the options of rehabbing the existing building. We're excited about it," said John McLinden, a partner in the firm.
"I think everybody wants to see that corner cleaned up. It will be a major rehab project," he added.
McLinden and Larry Powers, an executive with Centrum, in an informal presentation to the village board this past week, suggested demolishing the existing office building and replacing it with two smaller ones -- an 18,000-square-foot medical office for Northwestern Medical Group and an 11,300-square-foot multi-tenant building.
Last month, the village's planning and zoning commission recommended approval of the Centrum plan subject to various conditions. But the idea was soundly and unanimously rejected by village leaders as not what they envisioned for the highly visible property.
"This is not the highest and best use for this corner," Mayor Roger Byrne told Centrum representatives.
With Hawthorn undergoing a $50 million renovation, the idea of a medical office building at the site was "ridiculous," according to Byrne, who advised them to go back to the drawing board.
"This is an incredible retail location and if you can't find somebody to go in there, it's not my problem," he added.
Centrum is the contract purchaser of the three-acre parcel on which the 55,000-square-foot Weiss office building for years has sat largely vacant.
Last fall, village officials supported Centrum's concept to raze the Weiss building for two restaurants in separate buildings.
McLinden said there was ample interest from restaurant concerns, but not enough parking to meet village codes. Westfield wouldn't negotiate for any of its spaces, so the plan was reworked.
Trustee Jim Schultz had suggested a stand-alone store, such as Crate & Barrel, but McLinden said there was no demand for that type of use in that location.
However, there also was no demand for a medical office building on the part of the village board, which a few years ago imposed a moratorium on offices in certain commercial areas after a different developer suggested it for the then-vacant Circuit City store. That since has been redeveloped as a Tiger Direct.
"You're not going to get sales tax anyway because you'll have this building for a long, long time," McLinden said.
"I've waited 15 years for the mall to do something and it's finally happening. It's worth waiting to see something good come here. You can't convince me," Trustee Cindy Hebda said.
Other trustees supported that stance.
"If it's going to sit 15 years, it's going to sit," Trustee Mike Marquardt said. "It's going to be something other than medical."
As it stands, offices are a permitted use on the corner but the board would have to approve any exterior changes.
"We're going to move forward," McLinden said. "We'll work to see if we can relocate them (Northwestern Medical Group) into the existing building."
Schultz said he's indifferent to the idea.
"I'm glad they're investing some money into the building and making it a quality building," he said. "It's not what we would like, but I don't think there's anything we can do about that."