'You really get a mall turned inside out': Phase 2 of Hawthorn Mall remake gets green light

A new and improved plan for the second part of the ongoing $252 million remake of Hawthorn Mall in Vernon Hills has the green light from village officials.

The revised vision utilizes the area once occupied by the former Carson's store for an expanded grand plaza, 55,000 square feet of new retail/restaurant space, a new mall entry and 255 luxury apartments.

Essentially, the new Phase 2 relocates the original proposal by mall owner Centennial Real Estate, which has been going full speed on Hawthorn 2.0 - its vision to reinvent the entire 1970s-era campus.

The first part, called Hawthorn Row, was approved in December 2020. It features a new Main Street-style entry and 313 luxury apartments in four mixed-use buildings on the former Sears site.

The first building for The Domaine apartments will be available for residents to move in by early 2023. The identities of several eateries and retailers along Hawthorn Row are expected to be announced in early 2023, with openings late in the year.

Carson's on the southeast side of the mall also has been demolished, rather than reused, allowing for opportunities and adjustments developers say will enhance their overall vision.

The work also involves the demolition of most of the food court and the two-story corridor leading from Center Court to Carson's. Dave & Buster's will be repositioned on the second floor with its main entrance facing east, adjacent to AMC Hawthorn 12 theater.

A mixed-use, four-story residential building will be constructed to the south, with retail/restaurants on the ground floor facing it. Bay windows, a cornice and other features were added after a review by the village's advisory planning and zoning commission.

The revised Phase 2 "nestles or better connects to the shopping center," said Sam Whitebread, Centennial's vice president of tenant coordination and construction.

In the process, a substantial piece of the original mall will have been eliminated. Under the revised second phase, Center Court, which opened in late 2019 as a major new element inside the mall, will have an exterior wall overlooking a 3-acre outdoor plaza ringed by ground-level shops and restaurants.

The plaza, planned as a gathering place with space for events and various activities, is touted as a key feature in the transformation of the mall property north and west of Route 60 and Milwaukee Avenue.

"You really get a mall turned inside out," said architect Nick Igel, a partner in 505 Design, part of Centennial's development team. "It should be very activated, very lively, and be a really great people place."

Whitebread and Igel were among those involved in a detailed presentation during the village board's informal committee-of-the-whole session last week.

Whitebread said the plaza "acts as the hub or somewhat of a central point that ties together Phase 1, Phase 2, the retail district and the rest of the campus in a more thoughtful, meaningful way."

Terry "Vic" Howell, senior development manager for Focus, which is partnering in the residential portion of Hawthorn 2.0, said the plaza will be an "outdoor room" with areas for "Instagrammable moments."

The village board directed staff to prepare ordinances for official approvals authorizing the changes, as well zoning and sign variations and site, landscape and architectural plans.

"It's such an improvement," said senior village Trustee Thom Koch. "Shifting that (residential building) was such a great idea. It really enhances everything you're trying to do here."

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Images of a revised Phase 2 of the master plan for Hawthorn Mall in Vernon Hills, which calls for 255 luxury apartments and a large plaza flanked by stores and restaurants. Courtesy of village of Vernon Hills
  Ongoing construction on the former Sears store site on the east end of Hawthorn Mall in Vernon Hills. John Starks/
  Ongoing construction on the east end of Hawthorn Mall in Vernon Hills. The former Sears site is being remade as Hawthorn Row to include 313 luxury apartments in two, four-story mixed-use buildings. John Starks/
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