Vacant Sears at Fox Valley Mall could become apartment buildings

The vacant Sears store at the Fox Valley Mall could be razed early next year to make way for a three-building apartment development and kick off a new phase of life for the 45-year-old mall.

Aurora aldermen will vote next week on a request to rezone roughly 11 acres along the Route 59 side of the property to allow the buildings.

The buildings, each three stories tall, would have a total of 304 studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments.

At a committee meeting on Tuesday, none of the 10 aldermen raised any objection to the plan. An official vote will be taken during the Nov. 24 city council meeting.

“We're thrilled to have this,” Alderman Judd Lofchie said.

Alderman Sherman Jenkins asked whether the agreement required the developer to eventually convert the apartments from rental units to owner-occupied units.

This is the first phase of proposed redevelopment around the mall building, and Jenkins said he hopes it won't be all rental.

“In 20 years, we are going to have a problem. Owner-occupied is a very key component to making sure this remains a viable, most usable, productive development that will be something proud like the Fox Valley Mall has been since 1975 for Aurora,” Jenkins said.

Jon Meshel, senior vice president of development for mall owner Centennial Real Estate, said there will be owner-occupied units on other areas of the mall site.

The former Sears store would be torn down early in 2021, and construction of the first apartment building could start in April, he said.

Like many other malls, Fox Valley is trying to reinvent itself as anchor stores close and shoppers turn online to buy goods.

Sears closed its Fox Valley location in September 2018. It owned the land and building for the store, but sold them to Centennial in January 2018, according to DuPage County Recorder of Deeds records.

In 2018, a study of the Route 59 corridor called an area that includes Fox Valley “tired.” It suggested changing zoning on the mall site to allow multifamily housing, small stores and entertainment venues.

A report done this year for the city said that, including the closed Sears and Carson Pirie Scott department stores, 40% of the mall's store space was vacant.

The city earlier this month created a tax increment financing district for the whole mall. In a TIF district, property tax payments to local governments are frozen at the current level for a period of time — in this case, 15 years. Any extra property tax money collected within the area after it is established goes into a special fund controlled by the city. The money in the fund then can be used to help pay for certain improvements.

According to a report on the TIF, the mall site had an equalized assessed value of about $51.2 million in 2019, and could increase with redevelopment to $150 million to $200 million by the end of the 15 years.

So far, there are no agreements for TIF or city aid for the redevelopment, according to Clayton Muhammad, the city's communications director.

However, the city and Indian Prairie School District 204 signed an agreement in February exempting any increased taxes generated by residential properties from being used to pay for redevelopment.

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