What will it take to revive Hawthorn Mall? Residents give feedback

That a major transformation is needed to revive the 1970s-era Hawthorn Mall in Vernon Hills is undisputed, but the potential level of tax incentives to do that is an unknown that has some supporters wary.

But they also realize that if nothing happens, the aging mall will continue to slip, which won't be good for anyone, including Hawthorn Elementary District 73, which is hurting for revenue.

Those were some of the take-aways from a town-hall meeting Tuesday hosted by mall owner Centennial Real Estate to share plans and hear feedback.

“We want the community to become involved in ultimately, what this project becomes,” said Centennial CEO Steve Levin.

“To make it successful, it has to be embraced by Vernon Hills. If you don't come here, it won't be successful, (and) if we don't do what makes you want to come here, we're not doing our jobs.”

About 100 attended the presentation held in the vacant Carson's anchor space, which was scooped up by the Dallas-based company when it unexpectedly became available. Centennial also bought the former Sears site, and those spaces, once demolished, are regarded as key to the plan.

Centennial at past village board meetings has presented general concepts to include hundreds of housing units, a grocery store, restaurants, elaborate public gathering spaces and other potential uses on the mall property.

Tuesday's session featured a series of six stations with renderings of the different phases of the redevelopment process. Each station was staffed by Centennial representatives who fielded questions from residents and others.

Levin, who in April delivered an impassioned overview of the company's planned monumental makeover of Hawthorn, again assured the crowd the company was committed to making the plan work.

“We're not here to do something to it, sell it and move on,” he said.

Centennial invested $200 million to buy the mall and plans to devote $250 million more for “extraordinary” projects before asking for anything from the village. The company has the benefits would be increased property and sales tax revenue and that it wants a piece only of the value it creates. How that would be structured or what it would amount to has not been presented to village officials.

But the possibility of designating the area as a special financing district in which property values are frozen for taxing purposes has some worried.

“We know there are more options than just freezing the tax value for 23 years,” said Karl Borchers, a member of a community group that has been following the process.

Borchers said 97% of the 200 respondents to an online survey want to see the mall improved.

“We want this to happen,” he said.

Nearly three-quarters of respondents favor some type of incentive, he added, but support drops considerably when property values are frozen without consideration for schools and other entities, he said.

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  Steven Levin, CEO of Centennial Real Estate, hosts a town-hall meeting Tuesday on a proposed redevelopment of Hawthorn Mall to include apartments, restaurants, outdoor gathering spaces and other amenities in Vernon Hills. Steve Lundy/
  Concerned residents showed up for a town-hall meeting Tuesday at Hawthorn Mall in Vernon Hills to find out about a proposed redevelopment of the mall property. Steve Lundy/
This is an artist's rendering of the proposed redevelopment at Hawthorn Mall.
  Artist Ruben Rojas of Los Angeles paints a mural Tuesday on the east wall of the old Sears building at Hawthorn Mall in Vernon Hills. Steve Lundy/
  Artist Ruben Rojas of Los Angeles works on a mural on the east wall of the old Sears building at Hawthorn Mall in Vernon Hills Tuesday. Steve Lundy/
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