Hawthorn Mall owner committed to major transformation

The owner of Hawthorn Mall in Vernon Hills says the company is committed to a major reboot of the center as a go-to destination.

“We're working furiously every day to figure this out,” Oliver Robinson, executive vice president of development and construction for Dallas-based Centennial Real Estate, told village officials Tuesday.

To start, Centennial wants to build three new free-standing restaurants. Construction of more than 600 multifamily units, including some senior housing, and a hotel are among longer-range possibilities to transform the expansive mall property. Those would follow in stages and require separate reviews and approval from Vernon Hills officials.

“In this day and age, you have to give people a reason to come. It's not as easy as it used to be,” Robinson said Tuesday during a lively outline of Centennial's plans for the 1.3 million-square-foot regional mall.

“What we know is that it will be better than it is today and it will be better for all parties,” he said.

Hawthorn opened in 1973 north and west of Milwaukee Avenue (Route 21) and Townline Road (Route 60), and still is regarded as the foundation of Vernon Hills' vast retail and commercial base.

Centennial acquired the property from Westfield Corp. in December 2015 as part of a $1.1 billion deal involving five shopping malls nationwide, including Fox Valley Mall in Aurora.

But shopping tastes and habits have changed and village leaders want to protect the town's retail base. So is Centennial, which bought the former Sears and Carson Pirie Scott anchor stores when they became available.

“These were actions we took very quickly, very aggressively to make sure we control our own fate,” Robinson said.

“Our interests are aligned here,” he added. “The mall is a linchpin in the Vernon Hills community as far as retail and commerce.”

The village board Tuesday authorized Centennial to proceed with its proposal to create three restaurant spaces, which will involve the relocation of Ring Road, a process that could take three to four months before returning to the board for official approval.

Robinson was asked whether the village had too many restaurants, including a dozen coming to the new Mellody Farm development directly east.

“People are spending more money on restaurants now than they ever have,” Robinson said. “It's part of the experiential culture.”

Trustee Thom Koch Jr. cautioned Robinson on the restaurant selection.

“It's got to be something that's different from what we already have,” he said. Koch also asked whether plans considered a “more contemporary and more open” look for the exterior of the mall.

“Nothing is off the table as far as we're concerned,” Robinson said. “We have a lot of land. What we're trying to do is fortify the mall in any way and every way we can find.”

In a related matter, Macy's, which is independently owned, is expected on Dec. 11 to present village officials with similar ideas for areas beyond its footprint.

The question ultimately will be how much the village will be asked to contribute, Koch said.

Hawthorn underwent a $50 million renovation in 2013-14 to add attractions like Dave & Buster's and AMC Theatres, before Centennial bought it with $10 million coming through a sales tax sharing agreement with the village.

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Hawthorn Mall redevelopment key for Vernon Hills

  A direct connection to the Mellody Farm retail center in Vernon Hills may be required by the village as part of pending upgrades to Hawthorn Mall. Drivers exiting Hawthorn Mall heading east now can only turn north or south onto Milwaukee Avenue. Paul Valade/
Renderings presented to Vernon Hills officials show future possible development at Hawthorn Mall. Courtesy of Village of Vernon Hills
  Plans for future development along Route 60 near Macy's at Hawthorn Mall in Vernon Hills are expected to be presented soon. Paul Valade/
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