Hoffman Estates mayor on village, Sears campus: 'You never know what big thing will happen next'

Examples of the local business community turning the tide on COVID-19 and the hope that the former Sears campus may be just as adaptable were among the highlights of Hoffman Estates Mayor Bill McLeod's State of the Village address Tuesday.

McLeod told his business-oriented audience at the Now Arena that village officials are eager to hear the ideas potential buyers may bring to the table for the 274-acre Sears campus and its 2.3 million square feet of office space.

"It makes it very interesting to be mayor because you never know what big thing will happen next," he said, adding that the village will have great control over the future zoning of the Sears property that is up for sale.

Meanwhile, Bell Works Chicagoland welcomed more tenants to the redevelopment of the former AT&T campus during 2021, and home developer D.R. Horton has submitted plans for 170 townhouses on the east side of the property.

Though the project encountered some bad timing with the pandemic, McLeod said he looks forward to seeing it become the same kind of round-the-clock center of activity as the original Bell Works in Holmdel, New Jersey.

"They're doing well, and they're in it for the long haul," McLeod said of its developers.

Just to the north is Microsoft's $450 million investment in a new data center. And west of that is the speculative Fountain Crossing industrial park, which is expected to disclose some of its tenants' names this year.

The village also is working to bring utilities to the Plum Farm site at the northwest corner of Higgins and Old Sutton roads to serve a planned mixed-used development. And trustees recently approved the Seasons at Hoffman Estates apartment development at the intersection of Higgins and Moon Lake Boulevard, McLeod said.

A diversity of housing stock is considered as important to the village's vibrancy as new businesses, he said.

"You want to have housing that appeals to everyone."

Other upcoming projects include the reopening of The Stonegate Conference and Banquet Centre after a renovation, a Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen on Golf Road next to Hoffman Plaza, and a fresh use for the site of the recently demolished Hoffman Lanes bowling alley.

All this activity likely contributed to Hoffman Estates' being named Municipality of the Year by the Illinois Real Estate Journal, McLeod said.

Now Arena General Manager Ben Gibbs shared his experience of keeping the rebranded facility a center of activity during the pandemic through drive-in movies, graduations and concerts in the parking lot, a regrading of the Village Green just outside, and the transformation of the adjoining public works storage building into a Winter Refuge for entertainment.

He also played a hilarious video of a particular fan's overwhelmed response at one of the All Elite Wrestling events that reopened the arena for indoor events in September. Gibbs said it vanquished his fears that crowd entertainment was a thing of the past.

"These people are the most passionate fans you're ever going to see," Gibbs said. "It's that reaction that gives me confidence the Now Arena is in great hands."

This season is also the fifth anniversary of the Windy City Bulls as an arena tenant. And, in addition to its efforts to generate revenue during the pandemic, the facility received a $7.2 million Shuttered Venue Operators Grant from the federal government, Gibbs said.

The events there as well as throughout the village showed how the spirit of Hoffman Estates has remained alive throughout the pandemic, McLeod said.

"Although life is still not normal, we're getting there," he said.

  Members of the Hoffman Estates Chamber of Commerce & Industry watch the video portion of Hoffman Estates Mayor Bill McLeod's State of the Village address during a breakfast gathering Tuesday at the Now Arena. Eric Peterson/
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