Hundreds of workers are pounding, painting, drilling, stocking, polishing and toiling away to put finishing touches on Rosemont's upscale outlet mall set to open at 10 a.m. Thursday.
Fashion Outlets of Chicago is the first fully enclosed suburban mall built in the Chicago area in more than two decades, and likely the first outlet mall of its kind in the country, say industry experts.
Here's what you need to know about Rosemont's new outlet mall.
Hours: Daily 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; but closes at 7 p.m. on Sundays.
Location: Just south of the Balmoral Avenue off-ramp from the northbound Tri-State Tollway.
Size: Two-stories, 530,000 square feet.
Tenants: Roughly 130 high-end retailers.
Opening day: Ribbon-cutting ceremony near the food court before shops open at 10 a.m. Thursday to a drum roll by the Leyden High School Marching Band, followed by special attractions and events through Sunday, including Cirque Dreams theatrical performers, balloon artists and face painters.
Mass transit: A Pace bus will shuttle shoppers from the Rosemont CTA Blue Line "L" stop. The mall is a five-minute walk from the North Central Metra Rail line's Rosemont stop on Balmoral Avenue. O'Hare International Airport shuttle provided by Go Airport Express.
Parking: Attached seven-story garage has 2,000 spaces of parking free for opening weekend only. Parking fees go into effect Aug. 5. Rates: free the first 2 hours; $3 for 2-3 hours; $6 for 3-4 hours; $9 for 4-5 hours; $15 for 5-8 hours; $20 for 8 hours and above.
Eating: First-level food court seats 702 shoppers; two fine dining restaurants are on the second floor.
Concierge: BAGS Inc., for a nominal fee, will provide TSA-certified agents to check travelers' bags and print airplane boarding passes, much like curbside check-in at the airport.
More information: fashionoutletsofchicago.com
Source: Fashion Outlets of Chicago
It's also the only outlet mall in the Northwest suburbs -- merely 13 miles from Schaumburg's Woodfield Mall and less than 20 miles from Chicago's Magnificent Mile -- with the next closest outlet malls in Huntley, Aurora and Kenosha, Wis.
Those factors make Rosemont's outlet mall unique, said Neil Stern, a senior partner with McMillan/Doolittle LLP, a Chicago-based retail consulting firm.
"Its proximity to the city is different from historically where most outlet malls have gone," Stern said. "(Typically) they are 40 to 50 miles outside a major metropolitan area. This one is certainly closer to the city and closer to main shopping hubs than just about any outlet malls that have opened. I don't believe there's another one like that."
don't believe there's another one like that."
Stern said for a while there was a trend of building hybrid shopping+ centers, such as Gurnee Mills, that are quasi outlet centers paired with regular, full-price retail. "But in the industry, they have never been considered truly outlet malls," he said.
Outlet malls traditionally are outdoors with relatively few amenities and a rudimentary food court, he added.
The two-story, 530,000-square-foot structure -- just south of the Balmoral Avenue off-ramp from the northbound Tri-State Tollway -- offers a new kind of outlet shopping experience, said Arthur Weiner, chairman of AWE Talisman, mall developer.
"We were not interested in building a retail product that was an appendage to a community," Weiner said. "We want it to be part of the fabric of Rosemont. We look to change the social experience that's centered around food, fashion and art."
The project is a boon for Rosemont and the region. It will add 2,000 jobs and is expected to generate roughly $6 million yearly in sales tax revenue for the village, Rosemont Mayor Brad Stephens said.
Stephens said he could not quantify how much revenue the mall could generate in property taxes, food and beverage taxes, and indirect hotel/motel taxes.
"There are no malls in the area that have the high-end retailer lineup that this mall does even at an outlet level," Stephens said. "It takes us to a whole another dimension here. It's really exciting."
The village borrowed and spent more than $60 million to build the 7-story parking deck attached to the mall, make off-site improvements and help build the Balmoral Avenue off-ramp to provide access. Future revenue from property taxes will be used to pay off those bonds, Stephens said.
The village also invested roughly $50 million in the MB Financial Park at Rosemont restaurant and entertainment district north of the mall property.
"It's money well spent," Stephens said. "Between the two projects, we're talking about $300 million worth of development. Hopefully, someday down the road the people in this community will not have to worry about that investment debt that we have out there."
The external aesthetic of the mall may look somewhat like a Las Vegas casino with 11 LED signs, each 371 feet long, flashing images at drivers traveling along the northbound Tri-State Tollway.
"No one will miss it," Weiner said.
The mall's interior is brightened by 24 skylights with 792 glass panels providing natural lighting. It features 11 custom installations by contemporary artists scaling its walls, entryways and vestibules, suspended from ceilings and painted around the sides of escalators.
"We wanted to bring art to where the people are installed on a daily basis," Weiner said. "It's never been done in any other mall in the country."
The mall is more than 90 percent tenant-occupied and will be home to roughly 130 outlet stores of mid- to high-end retailers. Stores on the ground level include children's apparel, sportswear and casual brands such as Nike, Under Armour, Skechers and GAP, while the second level caters to shoppers looking for luxury designer brands, such as Prada, Barneys, Gucci and Theory.
A number of designer brands also are making their Illinois outlet store debut in Rosemont -- Tory Burch, Barneys, Vince Camuto, L'Occitane, Ports 1961 and Longchamp.
Mall amenities include a concierge service for visiting travelers on extended airport layovers. The target clientele is far East Asian outlet shopping consumers, officials said.
Stern said the developer has been smart about marketing the concierge concept. It will allow travelers to check in baggage and print boarding passes on-site before taking a free shuttle to O'Hare International Airport, 3 miles away.
The mall also offers two upscale, full-service restaurants -- Prasino and Villagio -- on the second level and a food court on the ground level offering booth and table seating for 702 shoppers.
"It will mimic and feel like a more traditional shopping center," said Stern, adding that Rosemont's mall isn't really competition for shopping centers such as Woodfield or Gurnee Mills. "There's not a lot of history to say that there's going to be a lot of cannibalization as a result of it. It will be interesting to see if it has that kind of direct impact on Michigan Avenue (stores)."
Whether Rosemont's outlet mall could be a game-changer for outlet shopping remains to be seen. But it could potentially draw business away from area outlet centers that likely will have to up their game.
The tenant mix at Chicago Premium Outlets in Aurora has shifted to more upscale stores in recent years, yet the mall doesn't have amenities like Rosemont's, Stern said.
"It's the evolution of outlet malls in the U.S.," Stern said. "Amenities, tenant mix and proximity ... it is sort of creating a new kind of shopping center as a result. I don't think it's necessarily going to alter the landscape. It will probably in the end be a net positive for retail shopping in the Chicago area. It will grow the market."
Stephens warned shoppers to expect traffic delays on opening day. "We're just hoping to be able to manage that crowd as best we can," he said.
Mall: Rosemont mayor warns shoppers to expect traffic delays on opening day