What could be in store for Yorktown mall: 600+ apartments, new tenants
Drive around Yorktown Center, and you'll find an empty Carson's department store and a wide-open parking lot where there was once a steady crawl of traffic.
When it was built more than 50 years ago on the outskirts of Lombard, Yorktown helped pioneer the concept of a fully enclosed regional mall accessible only by car.
Today, only one original anchor store -- J.C. Penney -- is still open. Carson's has sat vacant since 2018, leaving the mall with a glut of dead retail space.
To reverse that image, Pacific Retail Capital Partners, the owner of the core mall property, and Chicago-based Synergy Construction Group are finalizing plans for a redevelopment valued at more than $200 million.
The development team is looking to invigorate a tired area of Yorktown with a five-story apartment complex. The dormant Carson's store would be demolished to clear the way for a public plaza between the mall and two proposed residential buildings. Tenant spaces around the grassy plaza will get a fresh new facade. A new, two-story mall entrance and pedestrian improvements will help create a "neighborhood-like environment."
"We're actually in conversations with all the existing tenants right now to potentially reposition them or relocate them within the mall so they're outward-facing," Pacific Retail Executive Vice President Jonathan Rood said.
Traditional indoor malls have been undergoing similar transformations in the face of online competition, the demise of department store chains and changing shopping habits. Suburban malls are adding housing, entertainment and restaurants to provide customers for their retailers and spawn new businesses.
"The way that retail was done 50 years ago doesn't exist," Lombard Village Manager Scott Niehaus said. "And if you look across the Chicago region, to Northbrook, Old Orchard, Hawthorn, even sections of Woodfield, they are all going through this metamorphosis of adaptive reuse."
Yorktown's landlord is recruiting a grocery store for the future tenant lineup.
"We're also in negotiations with several other leases both on the food and beverage front, apparel, and then a grocery store as well for the project," Rood said. "And all of these retailers are seeing what's happening, and they see the concept plans."
Lombard's plan commission has endorsed the proposal. Village trustees are set to discuss the revitalization effort and an economic incentive package on April 20. A final vote is expected in May.
If approved, the project would be done in two phases, potentially bringing 621 apartments to Yorktown. The Carson's building is slated for demolition in June.
"This is a place that was built for cars to come, for people to walk in and spend their time indoors and not do anything else," said Russ Whitaker, a Naperville attorney representing the mall developers. "And so as we move to the next generation of uses, we were looking to wipe this clean and start over."
A 'sign of the past'
Developed in the 1960s, Yorktown was considered a retail-dominated regional mall through the early 2000s. Pacific Retail acquired the central mall property in 2012 with private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. for $196 million. The mall operator now owns more than 25 million square feet from Hawaii to New York.
"A lot of these were built in the '60s, in the '70s, and especially with what's happened and transpired over the last couple of years, things have to change, things have to adapt," Rood recently told Lombard plan commissioners.
Mall owners have sought to adapt by putting multifamily housing closer to retail. Apartment buildings have sprung up along the perimeter of Yorktown. The Elan and Overture complexes contain a combined 550 units at Grace Street and the mall's ring road.
Texas developer D.R. Horton soon will begin tearing down a vacant strip mall -- the Yorktown Convenience Center -- to make room for a 90-unit townhouse community.
The plaza will help connect the mall to the latest residential project, dubbed Yorktown Reserve. The apartments will be built east of Highland Avenue and the mall's Majestic Drive entrance.
"That section of the property is a blight," Whitaker said. "Expansive parking lots, particularly those that sit mostly empty, are a sign of the past. They show a lack of activity. I think they actually detract from the atmosphere of the mall."
Yorktown owners have been courting tenants that fit into the vision for the mall -- an "entertainment and experiential location as opposed to a strictly retail draw," Niehaus said.
"I certainly think that the total population that would be permanently on site helps the metrics to support a grocery store," he said.
Pacific Retail "just signed a new lease with a big entertainment group" for The Shops on Butterfield, Rood said. The shops are an extension of the mall, but with more convenient parking and a walkable streetscape.
"Hopefully within the next couple of months, we'll be able to start announcing more leases to come as well," Rood said.
The 224,000-square-foot Carson's store will be razed and the mall exterior resealed during the first phase of redevelopment. The new facade is designed to make the internal tenants more inviting.
"Today, there are existing retailers in much of this space. But those retailers do not have any sort of external view, they don't have marketing on the outside of the building," Whitaker said. "They don't relate to the outside of the building."
Village officials have discussed a proposal to provide a range of economic incentives: about $12 million in tax increment financing for the phase one apartment building; approximately $8 million in TIF for the phase two apartment building; and a business improvement incentive of $8 million for the open space and the exterior upgrades.
"As with all of our incentives, they are performance-based. None of those things are a guarantee," Niehaus said. "In other words, the development must be built. The development must produce incremental taxes that we would not otherwise have received, whether it be property tax or sales tax."
The first apartment building would take 18 to 24 months to complete.