$200M retail, housing plan pitched for routes 21, 60 in Vernon Hills
One of the few untouched corners in Vernon Hills' dense commercial landscape could be transformed by what village officials consider a potentially large and intriguing development.
But with a preliminary estimate of $200 million, the proposal by Regency Centers to build mix of retail and housing at the northeast corner of routes 21 and 60 will face several development-related hurdles and likely will require an incentive package to move forward.
Regency owns, manages or leases 43 million square feet of retail space across the country. The pitch for this last piece of the Cuneo family's once vast land holding is the first serious overture in years.
The property is on the east side of Milwaukee Avenue across from Westfield Hawthorn mall, another hunk of the former Cuneo holdings that was developed in the 1970s.
"Over time, I think the village has seen four or five different plans, but this is as serious a plan as we've seen in 10 years, at least," Village Manager John Kalmar said.
"It would be the biggest shopping center that would be developed here in recent memory," he said. "It's also the most prominent corner available for commercial development in this area."
Regency is proposing 270,000 square feet of retail space on 33 acres. The company also wants to work with a residential developer to build up to 400 dwelling units that could include executive apartments, townhouses or senior living. Neither potential retail tenants nor a residential builder were named.
The idea received a favorable but tempered reception from village officials, as the plan is in its infancy and will face extensive review.
Among the issues is the covenant on the property prohibits residential development and would have to be changed.
Regency also has asked the village to create a special financing district for the property to help offset as yet unspecified site improvement and infrastructure costs. The board on Tuesday approved a contract with Kane, McKenna and Associates Inc., not to exceed $45,000, to determine whether the site is eligible for the special district and other analysis.
The village is keenly interested of how any incentive might affect future village other plans.
"This is not a project that's going to be done in a vacuum," Kalmar said. "We have to look at not only the economic impact of the project itself but how it could impact the bonding authority of the village going forward."
According to the company website, Regency for 50 years has owned, operated and developed grocery-anchored retail centers. It operates several centers in Chicago and the suburbs, including Glen Oak Plaza and Glen Gate in Glenview, Willow Festival in Northbrook, Geneva Crossing in Carol Stream and Hinsdale Lake Commons in Willowbrook. Mariano's Fresh Market is or will be the anchor tenant in three properties, and Whole Foods is planned as the anchor in another.
The company has a contract to buy the land from the Cuneo Trust contingent on various plan approvals, according to Matthew Hendy, vice president of investments. The Des Plaines River and MacArthur Woods Forest Preserve are to the east.
In a presentation Tuesday to the village board, Hendy said the center is planned as a premier destination.
"We're going to go for a very cool type of architecture here that will be incorporated into all of the buildings," he said. "If we get far enough down the road, this will be truly special architecture."
Trustee Thom Koch said he likes the concept but wants to make sure it isn't just another shopping area for the village, which perennially is at or near the top of the sales tax heap in Lake County.
"I'd like to see some numbers of how this will fit into our total retail sales," he said. "I want to make sure it's not subtraction by addition."
Regency has dubbed the plan Mellody Farm in recognition of the former Hawthorn Mellody Farms Dairy, a destination in the 1950s and '60 for tours, a children's zoo and other amenities.