From parking lot to restaurants? What may be next for 'Hawthorn Mall 2.0'

A $6.2 million overhaul of the two-level interior center court at Hawthorn Mall gave holiday shoppers a taste of big plans in store for the Vernon Hills shopping center.

The next stage in the process is moving outside.

Representatives of mall owner Centennial Real Estate are seeking village approval to convert a parking lot fronting busy Milwaukee Avenue south of Ring Road into three buildable lots for restaurants or retail uses.

Centennial is asking that the special use permit governing the entire mall be revised to create a three-lot subdivision. The curved portion of Ring Road adjacent to the new lots would be rebuilt to make it more linear, according to the village.

Variations for setbacks also will be sought when Centennial representatives make the pitch to the village's planning and zoning commission at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at village hall, 290 Evergreen Drive.

The mall intends to market each of the lots for use by a single tenant, most likely restaurants, and developers believe the requested approvals will support the effort to lure tenants. Additional approvals will be required for each parcel once tenants are signed.

According to Centennial's application to the village, restaurants would complement existing uses at the mall and encourage cross-shopping.

Such "outlot redevelopment" is a major part of a $200 million plan to transform the 1970s-era mall inside and out. Luxury apartments have been mentioned as a future possibility, but nothing specific has been forthcoming and homes are not being considered for these lots, said Mike Atkinson, the village's community development director.

Grand plans for the spaces formerly occupied by Sears and Carson's stores, also owned by Centennial, also are in the works, though the company has not offered specific proposals.

It will be a while before the ball really gets rolling on what is being marketed as "Hawthorn Mall 2.0."

"This is just the beginning of many more steps to come," Atkinson said.

Financial incentives may be key to how plans proceed. A package for village board consideration isn't expected for a few months. Local school officials will be part of this process, Atkinson said.

"We want to make sure the financials are worked out before the development part is considered," he said. "We want to make sure everybody is comfortable."

Once the financial package is set, much of the rest of 2020 will be spent reviewing specific plans due to the amount of detail required in the drawings, Atkinson said.

Back inside at Center Court, two treelike sculptures will be installed to connect the upper and lower levels, and lounges will be added on the second floor in coming months as final touches.

Center Court opened to the public on Thanksgiving, featuring a coffee shop/wine bar, lawn games and other features.

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