What's next for Hawthorn Mall after Sears departure?

Another makeover is in the works for Hawthorn Mall in Vernon Hills, just three years after a wide-ranging $50 million renovation and expansion was completed.

What that will involve has been the topic of conversation between village officials and representatives of Centennial Real Estate, the Dallas-based firm that acquired the mall as part of a $1.1 billion deal in 2016.

The "what now?" factor was magnified Thursday as the Sears store, one of Hawthorn's anchors, was identified as one of about 100 the beleaguered retailer will close.

"We have a great opportunity to reshape the look of the mall," said Joe Carey, assistant village manager and community development director. Carey said the village and Centennial have had general discussions about Hawthorn the past six months.

While expected, the Sears news followed the surprise announced closing of Carson's and departure of Barnes & Noble from Hawthorn for the developing Mellody Farm retail center directly east across Route 21.

"It's easy to look at Carson's closing or Barnes & Noble moving across the street or Sears closing and say the mall is going through troubled times," Carey said. "I would argue this is an opportunity."

Centennial envisions Hawthorn becoming a "compelling destination" and community hub where people visit to shop, socialize and choose from various entertainment, dining and shopping options, said Colleen Heydon, Centennial's vice president of marketing.

"Hawthorn already is a prosperous shopping center," Heydon said. "Our goal is to evolve the mall to meet the needs of tomorrow's consumer and the local marketplace."

Talks continue to finalize a master plan creating a live/work/play environment, she said, that could include adding nonretail uses.

Could that mean a hotel or housing?

"I think it's too soon to tell," Carey said. "I know all options are on the table."

And there is room to maneuver as Centennial bought the Sears property in January. So, unlike the other anchor spaces that are owned individually, Centennial has control over the Sears building and associated outlets.

"Some malls, they need every anchor they can get, but many of those who had Sears are biting at the bit to get the spaces back," explained Rick Scardino, principal for Lee & Associates of Illinois LLC, a commercial real estate firm.

"Whoever goes there would certainly draw a heck of a lot more traffic to the mall than Sears is drawing."

Also in the mix is the October opening of Mellody Farm, the Whole Foods-anchored retail part of a $200 million mixed-use center at the northeast corner of routes 21 and 60.

At 272,242 square feet, Mellody is dwarfed by the 1.3 million-square-foot Hawthorn Mall. But it is promising a mix of stores and restaurants unseen in the suburbs. Barnes & Noble will be a new format, of which only a handful exist in the U.S.

"With more options for the consumer, we anticipate overall traffic to the area to increase, which will benefit everyone," Heydon said.

Vernon Hills does not levy a municipal property tax and has taken several actions in recent years to protect its vast retail base, including a quarter-percent home-rule sales tax, a pending 1 percent food and beverage tax, and several sales tax incentive packages for other projects.

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  Sears has joined Carson Pirie Scott as anchor stores set to close at Hawthorn Mall in Vernon Hills Steve Lundy/
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