$250 million Hawthorn Mall redevelopment 'moving at light speed'

While everyday life may seem to be in suspended animation, several ongoing projects in Vernon Hills show there is hope ahead, town officials say.

And that includes a proposed $250 million makeover for Hawthorn Mall at Townline Road (Route 60) and Milwaukee Avenue (Route 21).

“I don't want to leave everyone with the impression the future is bleak,” Village Manager Mark Fleischhauer told trustees Tuesday. “Although it certainly doesn't look very good today, there is reason for optimism.”

Unlike the recession 10 years ago, there are many developments, buildings and projects underway or in the planning stages with construction pending, he said.

He outlined about a dozen examples, including pending review of plans for 900,000 square feet of light industrial buildings; final stages of work on three restaurants; near completion of a furniture store; and proposals for two new retail stores.

Perhaps the most asked question, Fleischhauer said, is what's happening with Hawthorn Mall, the village's 1.3 million-square-foot retail centerpiece.

“No, the mall is not dead,” Fleischhauer said. “On the contrary, for a project of this size and complexity, it is actually moving ahead at light speed.”

Mall owner Centennial has secured a demolition permit and, starting next week, construction fencing will be installed and equipment staged near the vacant former Carson's anchor store.

Although a final detailed schedule has not been finalized, the permit allows demolition to begin June 1. The work will take about three months and is expected to be followed by a teardown of the former vacant Sears store.

Following demolition, the plan is to build a new, 70,000-square-foot retail store where Carson's had been, Fleischhauer said.

In a statement Wednesday, Jon Meshel, senior vice president of development for Centennial, said the company is taking a different approach than many competitors who have delayed projects due to uncertainties surrounding COVID-19.

“We are moving ahead with plans that were already on our radar before the pandemic began, though we are, of course, also assessing if any adaptations are needed based on the changing face of the retail environment in a post-COVID-19 world,” he said.

The company continues to work closely on plans to redevelop the former Sears and Carson's spaces, he added.

Last summer, Centennial outlined for village leaders plans to transform the aging shopping center built in the 1970s inside and out. With Centennial's pitch to redevelop the mall came a request for the village to help it recapture some of its investment by creating a special financing district.

Negotiations are underway but a redevelopment agreement will require public review and input.

“Even though demolition and construction are scheduled to begin next month, all of the work is being done entirely at the risk of the developer,” Fleischhauer said. “No deal is in place and no money has been promised.

“I don't want anybody to think this is a deal that's done behind closed doors,” he added.

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  The former Sears store at Hawthorn Mall in Vernon Hills is planned for demolition possibly in early September. It's part of a $250 million project to redevelop the aging shopping center. Paul Valade/
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