Industrial park in the works for Vernon Hills' largest undeveloped site

After being annexed with other properties into Vernon Hills in the mid-1980s, the Darling family farm west of Milwaukee Avenue became surrounded by an assortment of new neighbors as the Corporate Woods business park was built.

Local lore has it the Darling family patriarch secured a promise from his children not to sell for development. A daughter lived to be over 100, which is why the desirable area has remained open for so long, the story goes.

But with her death, the largest remaining undeveloped parcel in Vernon Hills became available. And now Darling Farm will be transformed into the $100 million South Lake Industrial Center.

California-based Panattoni Development Co. Inc., one of the largest industrial developers in the Chicago market, has secured village approvals to proceed with four buildings covering more than 904,000 square feet of space.

"Even with COVID-19, they see this as a good vibrant market and they'll be proceeding," said Mike Atkinson, the village's community development director.

"They're committed to completing this project. They're going to build all the buildings at once on a speculative basis," he said.

The buildings will be designed and built to accommodate various uses, including distribution, e-commerce, light manufacturing, headquarters and associated offices, according to information presented to the village. Individual buildings can be divided for use by up to four tenants and will feature high ceilings, numerous loading docks and room for truck maneuverability.

"We think we'll do very well with our new building type design here," John Pagliari, a company partner responsible for Chicago-area acquisitions and development, told the village's advisory planning and zoning commission.

"This is basically a $100 million deal all said and done," he said.

Panattoni's interest surfaced last fall. On May 27, the planning and zoning commission unanimously approved a special use permit, site plan, architecture and other elements needed to proceed.

The village board liked the initial concept and on Tuesday signed off on the details. An ordinance making it official is expected to be approved July 7.

A new road called Darling Drive will connect the center north to Corporate Woods Parkway and south to Forest Edge Drive, and provide access to two signalized intersections on Milwaukee Avenue.

The proposal is consistent with a study last year by Melaniphy & Associates Inc., saying industrial was the most viable use for Darling farm, as demand for that space exceeded supply.

"Even with what's going on here with the whole pandemic, industrial is still a favorite asset class," for investors, Pagliari said.

That stance is echoed by Lake County Partners, the county's economic development arm, which said rents are up and vacancies sparse for industrial/flex properties.

"Despite COVID-19, the industrial sector in Lake County remains really hot, both in manufacturing and distribution," said Barbara Prusila, marketing and communications director.

"If a developer like Panattoni is willing to build a spec development of this magnitude, we think it demonstrates faith in the economy and the local marketplace, and we're very excited for the potential."

At 60 acres, the Darling farm was the largest undeveloped tract left in Vernon Hills, Atkinson said.

Another 4.5 acres of the property connects to Milwaukee Avenue but is not part of the industrial park plan.

Vacant structures, including an old home, will be cleared and the property made available for another use.

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  A shed and a small home remain on a portion of what is known as the Darling Farm west of Milwaukee Avenue in Vernon Hills. The structures will be cleared as development of an industrial park proceeds to the southwest. Paul Valade/
The Darling farm is the largest remaining undeveloped property in Vernon Hills. The South Lake Industrial Center containing more than 904,000 square feet of flexible space in four buildings has been approved for the site. Courtesy of village of Vernon Hills
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