“It needs to be more”: $250 million redevelopment of Hawthorn Mall officially begins

Corporate executives and Vernon Hills officials ceremoniously welcomed the future of Hawthorn Mall on Thursday as heavy equipment continued methodically demolishing its past.

Known as Hawthorn 2.0, the planned $250 million repurposing of the 1970s-era mall is one of biggest and most anticipated projects in village history.

In a parking lot of the former Sears anchor store, with the rumble of backhoes in the background, officials reintroduced the project and spoke of its importance as a hub of the village's vast commercial base.

"For nearly 50 years, Hawthorn has been a staple of the community, a constant," said Jeff Rutzen, Hawthorn general manager. "And make no mistake, Hawthorn will remain a vital part of Vernon Hills. But as times change, so too does Hawthorn need to evolve."

The vision was unveiled two years ago by Steven Levin, CEO of mall owner Centennial Real Estate, during an impassioned overview of the monumental project for village officials.

The Dallas-based company bought the mall and subsequently acquired the closed Carson's and Sears anchor stores. Hawthorn, Rutzen said, can no longer just be a place to eat and shop.

"It needs to be more," he said. "It needs to become the hub for the community that we've always believed ourselves to be."

A rendering shows future plans for "Hawthorn Row" to be built on the former Sears space as part of a $250 million redevelopment of Hawthorn Mall in Vernon Hills. Courtesy of Village of Vernon Hills

The plan calls for a modern mix of retail, dining, entertainment and contemporary residential living suited for young professionals and empty-nesters.

"We know how important this mall is to our community and this region," said village Trustee Thom Koch, who has been on the village board since 1993.

Koch, a Lake County native who moved to Vernon Hills 33 years ago, said he has "witnessed the many lives of Hawthorn Mall."

To create the next one, Sears is being demolished to make way for a mix of apartments and retail spaces along a new Main Street-style mall entry called Hawthorn Row. One of the elements will be an open-air plaza for outdoor festivals and live entertainment.

"This is a plan that will have some very special features," said Tim Anderson, founder and CEO of Chicago-based Focus. "It is what people want today."

In December, Centennial announced a partnership with 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 new residential project is known as The Domaine at Hawthorn.

  Demolition of the former Sears building at Hawthorn Mall in Vernon Hills continued Thursday, the same day corporate executives and village officials gathered for a ceremonial groundbreaking on a $250 million redevelopment of the mall. Mick Zawislak/

The companies also were partners in The Atworth at Mellody Farm, a 260-unit luxury apartment building across Milwaukee Avenue and adjacent to the Mellody Farm retail development.

Foundations for the two buildings are scheduled to be poured in May. Construction is planned to begin in late summer.

The village board in early December approved various zoning code variations to allow the project to proceed.

The mall property has been designated a tax increment financing district, which freezes property taxes for up to 23 years. Any increases from rising property values are 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.

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