Communities with declining malls, wisely take steps for a new future

For many of us, suburban malls have provided fond holiday memories of finding the perfect gift, watching our children pose with Santa, or simply enjoying time with family on a day off.

Sure, there are large crowds and often frustrating searches for parking spaces. But a trip to a mall during this time of the year is an experience that scrolling online cannot replace.

So, there is something surreal about strolling through a mall when you know that this holiday season may be its last.

Staff writer Alicia Fabbre experienced some of that when she spoke earlier this month to shoppers at Spring Hill Mall.

Spring Hill, which straddles Carpentersville and West Dundee, is largely vacant.

Meanwhile, West Dundee has purchased buildings that once housed two of the mall’s anchors — Sears and Macy’s — and expects to acquire the interior portion of the mall and former Carson Pirie Scott store building early next year.

While the village has no formal plans for the property, West Dundee officials have said they plan to demolish the mall and hope to replace it with a mixed-use development that includes housing, restaurants, shops and other entertainment venues.

Either way, 2023 will likely be the last holiday season at Spring Hill.

Fabbre spoke to Jennifer Moore, a Lake in the Hills resident who had brought her three children to Spring Hill for one last visit with Santa and to bid farewell to the mall she enjoyed as a teenager.

“It’s kind of sad,” Moore said. “But it’s kind of normal ... It’s kind of the way malls are going.”

Indeed, the era of online shopping has resulted in the slow demise of once-vibrant suburban malls. Some, including Charlestowne Mall in St. Charles, have been largely vacant for years.

Fabbre reported that there are only a few remaining tenants at Spring Hill.

The situation is worse at Stratford Square Mall in Bloomingdale, where vacant storefronts far outnumber the handful of shops left.

But like West Dundee, the village of Bloomingdale is trying to intervene by acquiring pieces of mall property near the intersection of Schick Road and Gary Avenue.

Senior writer Katlyn Smith reported earlier this month that the village has purchased vacant department store buildings around the languishing mall to facilitate a full-scale redevelopment of Stratford Square.

Bloomingdale is now trying to use its eminent domain powers by pursuing a condemnation lawsuit to acquire the core of the 1980s-era mall. The village also filed a condemnation lawsuit targeting Kohl’s — the mall’s last anchor store.

According to Smith, Bloomingdale officials say that residential developers, businesses and restaurateurs have expressed interest in a re-imagined Stratford Square. Village leaders envision the site having a large, green community gathering area surrounded by restaurants and entertainment or recreational offerings.

So, while we lament what has happened to Spring Hill and Stratford Square, we take comfort in knowing that West Dundee and Bloomingdale officials are trying to do something to breathe new life into those sizable properties.

Perhaps what comes next will provide fond memories for future holidays.

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