Vernon Hills wants Macy's to scale back Hawthorn Mall plan

Macy's preliminary proposal to develop four buildings on its property outside Hawthorn Mall in Vernon Hills is too crowded for village officials, who suggested the plan be scaled back.

Representatives of the retailer say they will crunch numbers to determine if three buildings will work instead, and they will bring a revised plan back to village hall.

"It's reasonable," said Aanen Olsen, vice president of development for New York-based Brookfield Properties, which has a "strategic alliance" with Macy's to develop its properties in Vernon Hills and elsewhere.

Brookfield's initial plan called for it to subdivide four outlots along Townline Road (Route 60) and develop two stand-alone restaurants and two multitenant buildings. A portion of the mall's Ring Road would need to be reconfigured.

"Department stores generally are looking for ways to bring traffic back to their side of the mall," Olsen said Tuesday after a preliminary presentation to the village board.

But village leaders want to ensure a unified vision for the mall, as multiple property owners involved with efforts to revitalize the 1.3 million-square-foot retail center pursue similar ideas.

"We don't want a haphazard approach to this," Village Manager Mark Fleischhauer said Wednesday. "We don't want to see developers jam a bunch of stuff where it doesn't belong."

Dallas-based Centennial Real Estate acquired Hawthorn in December 2015 and has since bought the shuttered Sears and Carson's anchor buildings to gain more control as it tries to reinvent the mall. The developer wants to build three new free-standing restaurants along Milwaukee Avenue, which has informal approval from the village, and hundreds of housing units and a hotel are among other possibilities.

Macy's already has either sold or closed many underperforming stores and is looking for ways to "fortify" its remaining 650 locations by adding other uses on its properties.

"Macy's will seek to attract non-retail uses to many of its properties in the coming years," according to Brookfield.

The initial pitch in Vernon Hills was to repurpose about six acres of parking for two restaurants and two multitenant buildings totaling 26,000 square feet. In correspondence with the village, Olsen said redeveloping the underutilized parking would generate sales tax and help sustain the mall as a shopping destination.

With changes in consumer shopping habits, vast amounts of surface parking are unnecessary, according to the developer.

Village Building Commissioner Mike Atkinson agrees Macy's has more parking than needed, but he said eliminating too much could create problems with people trying to cross busy Ring Road and other issues.

Village trustees and residents weighed in against the initial plan.

"I hate it," Trustee Jim Schultz said. "I'm thinking two, maybe three outlot buildings there. That gives us a reasonable level of parking."

Don Kathan, a Greggs Landing resident and mayoral candidate in 2017, said he has concerns about a piecemeal approach at Hawthorn.

"Whatever is done needs to be done in a comprehensive manner," he said.

Fleischhauer agreed.

"We don't want a bunch of junk," he said.

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