Sears demolition clearing way for big plans at Hawthorn Mall

Evidence of the massive makeover planned for Hawthorn Mall in Vernon Hills has emerged, as demolition of the former Sears anchor store is underway.

Work to clear the Auto Center portion of the once popular destination continued Thursday. The Sears space eventually will be transformed into a "Main Street" bordered by apartments, restaurants, shops and other amenities.

That grand new entry to the 1970s-era mall is envisioned as the focal point of a planned $250 million makeover known as Hawthorn 2.0.

Work inside the former big box store in advance of its demolition is nearly complete, said mall General Manager Jeff Rutzen.

"During the interior demolition, we removed all utilities and dividing walls separating Hawthorn from Sears, that needed to be safely removed before the exterior demolition could begin," he said.

The entire Sears building will be demolished by April, he added.

Construction of new features is planned to start later this spring.

In December, mall owner Centennial Real Estate of Dallas announced a partnership with Chicago-based Focus and Atlantic Residential of Atlanta to build 303 luxury apartments and 55,000 square feet of retail space on the Main Street site.

The partnership marked a "significant step forward" for Hawthorn 2.0, which company officials say will create a modern mix of retail, dining, entertainment and contemporary residential living suited for young professionals and empty nesters.

The project on the former Sears site also will include a new mall entry, an open-air plaza for gatherings and events, and the creation of several new spots, known as out-parcels, along Milwaukee Avenue, according to Centennial.

Rutzen said construction is expected to be completed in 2022, with a grand opening scheduled for the "holiday time frame."

Vernon Hills officials in early December approved various zoning code variations to allow the project to proceed. The village also has designated the mall property as a tax increment financing district. That freezes property value for taxing purposes for up to 23 years, with any increases from rising property values funneled into a special fund for improvements on the site.

An agreement outlining how much TIF money will be channeled to Centennial is being finalized.

The second phase of the project calls for 249 apartments to the south of Main Street.

The best future uses for other parts of the property, such as the vacant former Carson Pirie Scott big box anchor store, are being evaluated.

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  Demolition has begun on the former Sears store at Hawthorn Mall in Vernon Hills. It's one of the first tangible signs of a $250 million mall makeover expected complete in 2022. Paul Valade/
  Demolition has begun on the east side of the former Sears store at Hawthorn Mall in Vernon Hills. Paul Valade/
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