Fashion Outlets expansion could mean bulldozer for Rosemont Theatre

When the Fashion Outlets of Chicago is ready to expand, Rosemont Mayor Brad Stephens said he'll be ready with the bulldozer and the likely target would be the Rosemont Theatre.

“If expanding the mall means more money than the theater, then it's supply and demand for the mall. That's a no-brainer,” Stephens said of sacrificing the 20-year-old, rose-emblazoned theater building.

While such expansion plans have been mentioned only by mall owner Macerich, based in Santa Monica, California, Stephens said he has been crunching the square-footage numbers and the potential revenue to the village.

“They tell me the real sweet spot is 800,000 square feet for a mall, so that means the Fashion Outlets needs to expand about 300,000 square feet,” Stephens said. “The more successful ones are all around 800,000 square feet.”

The village received about $13.2 million in sales tax revenue in 2014 from the mall. That figure could jump dramatically with an expansion, and exponentially more with additional hotel or other taxes from the extra visitors, he said.

The Fashion Outlets of Chicago opened in Rosemont in July 2013 with more than 100 luxury retailers, including Barneys, Tory Burch, Prada, Halston, Bloomingdale's The Outlet Store, Last Call by Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th and more. It now has about 130 stores.

  The Fashion Outlets of Chicago opened in 2013 in Rosemont. George LeClaire/ 2013

But even as the Fashion Outlets opened, village officials and the mall owner talked about how to expand it. That possibility came to light last week during Macerich's quarterly earnings call with Wall Street analysts.

Ross Nussbaum, an analyst with UBS, asked Macerich CEO Art Coppola if he could “give us a sense of what is in the pipeline over the next couple of years in terms of new outlet development,” according to a transcript.

“ ... I think the possibility of expanding Fashion Outlets of Chicago is in our future,” said Coppola, who has already been expanding other properties. Macerich spokeswoman Karen Maurer on Tuesday declined to provide further details.

Such mall expansions have been attempting to keep up with post-recession consumers who are eager to shop again. Simon Premium Outlets, owner of Chicago Premium Outlets in Aurora, is adding 20 stores by late August. Even Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg is undergoing a major remodeling to be more attractive to shoppers.

So while an expansion of the Fashion Outlets may be in the preliminary stages, it isn't far-fetched, Stephens said.

If Macerich executives come to the village with a plan for expansion, Stephens and other village officials would discuss their options. But it would likely mean tearing down the nearby Rosemont Theatre. Whether a new theater would be built would depend on the cost, location and other factors that would be discussed later, Stephens said.

“It's a beautiful theater, and it will be a tough decision with our hearts. But with our heads, all we need to do is just look at the numbers,” Stephens said of the venue built by his father, the late Mayor Donald E. Stephens.

The 4,400-seat theater has hosted performances ranging from the “The Radio City Christmas Spectacular Starring The Rockettes” to music acts including Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Mathis, Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber. A speakers series this fall will include former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and neurosurgeon and CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta.

Stephens in 2012 characterized the theater as “struggling” and operating with a deficit of about $1 million for several years.

But he said Tuesday that business has been good at the theater and is expected to continue.

About a half-dozen village employees manage the theater. If it was torn down, Stephens said he would try to place the employees elsewhere in village operations.

  Rosemont Mayor Brad Stephens stands in front of the Fashion Outlets Of Chicago when the mall opened in 2013. Bob Chwedyk/ SEPTEMBER 2013

The Fashion Outlets is attracting about 20 percent more people so far this year compared to last year, he said. And the village is running out of open land in that section to accommodate a mall expansion, he said.

Stephens said he likely will see Ed Coppola, Art's brother, at the International Council of Shopping Centers trade show May 17-20 in Las Vegas and might talk about the expansion of the Fashion Outlets.

He put the time frame for a possible expansion at two to four years.

“They have to let me know when the timing is right,” Stephens said.

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