'Central park' remake of Hawthorn Mall center court set to begin

As details of a proposed $200 million transformation of the Hawthorn Mall property in Vernon Hills percolate, a project intended to make a statement by Black Friday is set to proceed.

By mid-June, mall owner Centennial Real Estate wants to start a $6.2 million overhaul of the dated two-level interior center court to create a year-round, multiuse "central park" environment.

"We will be working around the clock basically from June through November," said Whitney Livingston, Centennial's COO of projects.

"That's just the starting point," said Mike Atkinson, Vernon Hills' community development director. "It will look nothing like it looks now," he added.

The company plans a town hall-style meeting June 18, and the village has introduced a Hawthorn Mall 2.0 site on its home page as a clearinghouse on all aspects of the Hawthorn redevelopment, including renderings.

The site was established to ensure transparency, keep residents advised of meeting dates related to the proposals and explain the development/review process, said Jon Petrillo, assistant village manager. It's also a "central location to share related stories on malls, the state of brick and mortar retail, and redevelopment concepts," he said.

The center court makeover is planned to be complete for the holiday shopping season. It will include a coffee shop/wine bar, water feature, two treelike sculptures, lounges on the upper level, a new lamella-style ceiling, avant-garde lighting and other features to create a "sophisticated parklike experience," according to the Dallas-based company.

The work and similar plans for Centennial's Fox Valley Mall in Aurora represent a new approach for what are regarded as underutilized spaces in the 1970s-era shopping centers.

"The idea is to create an engaging space the community can use for all different purposes," Livingston said.

"Call it Phase 1 of our interior renovation at Hawthorn," she added. "It's going to be pretty extraordinary."

Other ideas being considered for the 15,190-square-foot space involve projection mapping of soccer balls or butterflies, for example, for children to 'chase' through the park; a program of events from bands to yoga; and a lush landscape suitable for lawn games.

"We want this to be a very interactive, engaging space," Livingston said. "It's being designed for all ages."

According to Centennial, the new center court is part of a "place-making" strategy to enhance the mall experience for existing customers and to attract new, repeat visitors. More traffic would draw new retailers, restaurants and entertainment venues to help rebrand and revive the mall.

"The investment Centennial is making in the center court speaks volumes to prospective tenants," Livingston said. "This is kind of our first step at delivering the new Hawthorn."

At some point, the big picture will involve the demolition of the vacant Sears and Carson's anchor stores, as well as the construction of free-standing restaurants, a gourmet grocer, outdoor gathering space, hundreds of luxury apartments and other features as part of a comprehensive transformation inside and out.

While those changes will involve a to-be-determined village incentive, Centennial will pay for the center court.

"This is a nonrevenue generating project and a pretty expensive one," Livingston said.

Four professionally created art installations spanning nearly 10,000 feet are planned to spark interest in the coming redevelopment.

The first, by Des Plaines native Myron Laban, was completed in April on a wall adjoining a wing in the center's atrium. The second, by Chicago artist Anthony Lewellen, will stretch 4,224 feet along the exterior of the former Sears building. It was delayed by weather, but is expected to get underway soon.

A $6.2 million renovation of Hawthorn Mall's center court is expected to be complete by Black Friday. “The idea is to create an engaging space the community can use for all different purposes,” said Whitney Livingston, COO of projects for mall owner Centennial Real Estate. Courtesy of Centennial Real Estate
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