Hoffman Estates candidates debate Sears' future in the village
Though Hoffman Estates has worked hard in recent years to keep Sears Holdings Corp.'s headquarters in the village, candidates for village trustee differ greatly in their forecast of the company's long-term presence.
Former Trustee Cary Collins, who is challenging incumbents Anna Newell, Gary Pilafas and Gary Stanton for one of three village board seats at stake in the April 7 election, said the village should be making plans for life without the retailer.
"Hoffman Estates had better get used to not having Sears," Collins said Wednesday, the same day more than 100 layoffs were announced at Sears' headquarters. "It's not going to be there. That's a fact."
The village should be prepared for having two large empty properties in place of the AT&T and Sears corporate campuses, he said.
But Pilafas expressed faith in the vision of Sears Holdings Chairman Edward Lampert to modernize the company.
"To the contrary, I think what Eddie's doing with Sears Holdings Corp. and Kmart in general is brilliant," Pilafas said. "He's taking one of the oldest brick and mortar brands and steering it toward the Amazon.com model."
Pilafas described Sears headquarters as a bustling place when he visits for conferences twice a year.
Stanton, who said he played a pivotal role in the creation of the economic development agreement that got Sears to stay in town a couple of years ago, attested to the company's transformation. His son works for Sears in marketing.
Both Pilafas and Stanton say market analysts may not recognize what's really going on at Sears because Lampert isn't the type of person who shares his vision with everyone.
Stanton said that while he cannot be certain Sears will stay in Hoffman Estates forever, he is confident the village has expended as much effort as it should in that direction.
"I can't predict the future," he said.
Newell said that while the village tries to attract and retain businesses all the time, there's only so much that can practically be done.
"If you take a look at the economy today, you see a lot of these businesses are going across the border somewhere," she said. "We're trying as hard as we might to bring them here. And it's not like we're opening the checkbook and saying, 'Here, come here.' Everything changes so fast, sometimes you can't be on top of it."
Collins proposed that the village begin looking at the Sears property as the possible site of a product showcase or distribution hub, to which people would travel internationally via O'Hare International Airport.
"The village has an opportunity with the property that is still out there to do something that no one else has done," Collins said.
He also suggested that Hoffman Estates look to nearby villages like South Barrington as a model of being friendly to business development -- like that village's Arboretum shopping center -- without having to offer financial incentives.
Pilafas pointed out that The Arboretum was built by a developer who then went bankrupt and had to sell it for pennies on the dollar.
"It's really about forming corporate and private partnerships," Pilafas said. "It's an incentive-driven world at every level. Honestly, these people who are looking to build in towns are looking for the best deal."
Newell, Pilafas and Stanton, who are supporting each other's campaigns, dispute Collins' claim that Hoffman Estates plays second fiddle to South Barrington when it comes to being attractiveness to business.