Daily Herald opinion: Bloomingdale deserves praise for trying to re-imagine Stratford Square Mall property
Stores and restaurants were noticeably busy on Saturday afternoon along Gary Avenue and Army Trail Road in Bloomingdale.
But while shoppers flocked to nearby strip centers, Stratford Square Mall was nearly deserted. Walking through the large shopping center, it was clear why so few people were there.
Vacant storefronts far outnumber the smattering of shops and the one anchor store that remain. A mall directory sign still has the names of the various businesses that have departed in recent years, including a movie theater, an entertainment complex and more than a dozen food vendors and eateries.
Bloomingdale leaders are keenly aware of what has happened to the once-vibrant shopping center at the southeast corner of Gary Avenue and Schick Road.
They have spent more than three years trying to partner with Namdar Realty Group, the New York-based commercial real estate firm that owns the interior portion of the mall and the former JCPenney box.
However, Bloomingdale Village President Franco Coladipietro says attempts to work with Namdar have been unsuccessful. So village officials have decided to take the lead on a proposed redevelopment of the sprawling site.
The village has spent more than $5.6 million to purchase former department store buildings and open space near Stratford Square. Now it's trying to use the power of eminent domain to take over the interior mall itself. Bloomingdale has filed a condemnation lawsuit aimed at acquiring the property. Coladipietro is calling it an "act of last resort."
"I think that there's a lot of opportunity here, but doing nothing is simply not an option," Coladipietro told our Katlyn Smith.
Whenever the words "eminent domain" or "condemnation" come into play, a negative backlash can follow amid accusations of government overreach. In certain situations, those reactions are understandable.
But what's happening with Stratford Square is not the same as removing an established business or a historic building to make way for a road or a development.
Like other malls across the country, Stratford Square has struggled in the era of online shopping. Namdar, which acquired the mall in October 2019, has done nothing to try to reinvigorate the property. Meanwhile, Bloomingdale trustees hired consultant Teska Associates in May 2021 to re-imagine the site. The firm drafted conceptual plans that call for tearing down the mall structures and replacing them with a mix of residential, commercial and recreational development.
Officials also have been actively pursuing potential developers to gauge their interest in Stratford Square. However, they are limited in what they can do until the village owns the entire site.
Namdar is fighting the eminent domain lawsuit in DuPage County Court. Unfortunately, the company and the village are on opposing sides.
Elliot Nassim of Mason Asset Management, which partners with Namdar, said in March 2020 -- more than three years ago -- that the company would "work with city leadership to transform the mall into a premier regional destination and flourishing center of community life."
It's a shame that never happened, but neither has Namdar shown any reason to have faith that it ever will.
Now Bloomingdale officials are simply trying to do whatever they can to stop the continued decline of the property. They refuse to allow the mall to become a massive eyesore. We applaud their efforts.