Daily Herald opinion: Bloomingdale officials make the right moves to re-imagine Stratford Square Mall

This editorial is the consensus opinon of the Daily Herald Editorial Board

Times have been difficult for Stratford Square Mall in recent years.

The once-vibrant shopping center in Bloomingdale has been in a slow but steady decline since its JCPenney store closed in 2014. Stratford has since lost three other anchor stores, a movie theater and many smaller tenants.

There was a glimmer of hope after Namdar Realty Group - a New York-based commercial real estate firm - acquired the core mall property in October 2019.

In March 2020, Elliot Nassim of Mason Asset Management, which partners with Namdar Realty Group, said the company was committed to ensuring the success of Stratford.

"Ultimately, our vision is to work with city leadership to transform the mall into a premier regional destination and flourishing center of community life, where residents and visitors shop, work, live and play," Nassim said.

But that was 29 months ago.

Last week, Bloomingdale Village President Franco Coladipietro told our Katlyn Smith that Namdar and Mason have yet to offer a plan to turn around the struggling mall.

To their credit, village officials didn't wait. They have been working with a consultant to develop a "strategic vision plan" for the mall property.

Trustees started that process last year when they hired Teska Associates Inc. to re-imagine the site at the southeast corner of Gary Avenue and Schick Road. The firm has unveiled conceptual plans that call for tearing down mall structures and replacing them with a mix of residential, commercial and recreational development.

"The village felt it was important to make a fresh start and to really transform that parcel into a center that addresses the current shopping habits and desires of not only residents but visitors to our community," Bloomingdale Village Administrator Pietro Scalera said.

One of the concepts for the property shows a pedestrian-friendly "central village green" surrounded by street-level retail and restaurants. The rest of the site would have parking and various housing options.

While Coladipietro says that layout is just one "starting point," it represents the beginning of a conversation about what comes next for Stratford.

Because strolling through the mall over the weekend makes it clear the situation isn't going to improve on its own. Most of the retail spaces are empty, and only two eateries remain in the food court. Burlington - one of the two remaining anchor stores - is planning to move to another location near the mall.

Bloomingdale officials made the right decision to intervene. They could not allow a large property like Stratford to deteriorate without at least trying to breathe new life into it.

Of course, turning ideas into reality will be a significant challenge. Part of the reason is that the anchor spots are owned independently by separate entities.

The village also will need the cooperation of Namdar, which owns the interior portion of the mall site and the former JCPenney box.

Ideally, Namdar would work with Bloomingdale on the revitalization efforts. Then the property would have a real chance of becoming what Nassim called a "flourishing center of community life."

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