20 years after Wheeling's Kmart closed this 'great piece of real estate' remains vacant
Twenty years after Wheeling's Kmart store closed as part of the once-ubiquitous chain's slow demise, the site remains unused -- a half-paved, half-grassy lot just north of a much-traveled stretch of Dundee Road.
Village officials and a real estate broker representing the owners say there has been interest in redeveloping the roughly 8-acre property through the years -- but a plan never has solidified.
"People do come to town and they look (and ask), 'Will this fit our needs?'" Village President Pat Horcher said. "We haven't been able to put (it) together."
More than 2,300 U.S. Kmarts have joined the Wheeling store in the economic dust bin. On Saturday, Kmart will close its store in Avenel, New Jersey -- leaving just three in the nation.
Wheeling's store, near the northeast corner of Dundee and Elmhurst roads, closed in 2002 and was razed in 2009.
While other former suburban Kmart sites have been redeveloped as grocery stores, retail operations and even a police station, Wheeling's hasn't had that kind of luck.
No company has even so much as presented a plan to village hall for consideration since the 90,000-square-foot building came down, Horcher said.
The L-shaped property wraps around a relatively small shopping center that's at the corner of Dundee and Elmhurst. Both are part of a financial trust benefiting a family that, according to real estate broker Larry Dickstein of Arlington Heights-based Land Partners LLC, wants to remain anonymous.
The small center -- containing a hair salon, a law office and a few other tenants -- opened before the Kmart was knocked down.
The Kmart store shuttered after the chain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and started closing stores. Village officials tried to condemn the site in 2007 and briefly had a contract to buy it and that adjoining strip mall for $10 million.
But the deal fell apart when a developer interested in building a new shopping center there backed out. The asking price was too high for the village to buy it on its own, officials said at the time.
Much of the site is paved, although the surface is in poor shape and peppered with potholes. A big rectangular section is grassy.
Part of the property was engineered to hold stormwater, Horcher said, which could affect future redevelopment options.
But officials and real estate professionals say the site has a lot of potential.
It's near the Wheeling Town Center and Uptown 500 commercial and residential complexes, and Wheeling's municipal campus. The Wheeling Park District's Community Recreation Center and Family Aquatic Center are nearby, too.
"It is the center of our town," Horcher said.
Dickstein said he expects a development that mixes residential and commercial uses eventually will go up on the site.
"That's the trend now," he said. "There's no need for those big boxes (like Kmart)."
Dickstein said he's talking with "a few different people" about possible redevelopment.
Horcher said he'd "be thrilled" to see activity return to the property.
Dickstein called the site "a great piece of real estate." All that's needed to make a deal happen, he said, is a developer willing to pay the right price and the support of the village board for a development proposal.
"It has to make sense for the developer and the community," he said.