$6 million Gurnee Mills renovations nearing completion

After more than a year of work, the extensive $6 million renovation to Gurnee Mills is almost complete, and the mall's management says its vacancy rate is at its lowest point in a decade.

The renovation work, among the most significant in the mall's history, has included the installation of new LED fixtures throughout the center and parking lots and new seating and planters in common areas. The hardwood floors were refinished section by section, and the skylights were replaced. The food court also got an updated look, as did many of the ceilings.

Randy J. Ebertowski, the mall's general manager, said it was hard to pick which improvement he liked best.

"I was thrilled about how much we were able to get accomplished," Ebertowski said. "All the painting did a tremendous job in making it look brighter and fresher."

Ebertowski said the only work remaining beyond minor touch-ups is in the north dining pavilion, where officials plan to relocate the Subway and add new seating for diners.

The Gurnee Mills renovations come at a time when mall operators across the suburbs and the country are trying to keep shoppers interested amid competition from online retailers.

The owner of Hawthorn Mall in Vernon Hills is contemplating a major reboot of the shopping center as a go-to destination, including building three new free-standing restaurants. Construction of more than 600 multifamily units, including some senior housing, and a hotel are among longer-range possibilities to transform the expansive mall property.

Ebertowski said Gurnee Mills is doing well, thanks in part to the investment the mall's owner, the Simon Property Group. has made.

"Company policy doesn't allow us to share our occupancy rate, but it's the strongest I've seen in the 10 years I've been here," he said. "We have strong customer traffic, which means more sales in the mall, which means more desire by retailers to lease."

Two of the vacant anchor stores were filled in 2018. In May, Dick's Sporting Goods opened, filling the space previously occupied by The Sports Authority, and The RoomPlace opened last month where TJ Maxx used to be.

There is strong interest from several retailers for the mall's last remaining vacant anchor, the flagship location once occupied by Sears, which filed for bankruptcy in October, he added.

Gurnee Mayor Kristina Kovarik said the renovations were beautiful and complemented the retailers, restaurants and entertainment venues at the mall.

"This investment keeps the shopping experience fresh and modern for our residents and visitors," Kovarik said.

The Gurnee village board voted in 2017 to help defray the cost of the renovations by contributing up to $250,000 per year for four years to the Simon Property Group. Jack Linehan, the assistant to the village manager, said the village paid $250,000 to Simon in April and the second of four payments will be due in April 2019.

The interior of Gurnee Mills received an overhaul as part of a $6 million renovation project, which is nearly done. Photo by Janelle Rominski, courtesy of Gurnee Mills
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