Not just a mall anymore: Phase 1 of Hawthorn 2.0 is about done, and Phase 2 is ready to begin
Since demolition of the Sears anchor store began more than two years ago, a "transformative redevelopment" of Hawthorn mall in Vernon Hills has continued even through the coronavirus pandemic.
Now, with The Domaine, a 311-unit luxury apartment complex, nearly ready to accept tenants, a corner has been turned and the next stage of the $252 million Hawthorn 2.0 project is set to get underway.
"The most exciting thing is to have residents moving into the Domaine," said Jeff Rutzen, Hawthorn general manager. Advertised rents range from $1,876 per month for a studio to as much as $4,495 for a three-bedrooom unit.
A second mixed-use luxury apartment complex, demolition of 100,000 square feet of retail space inside the mall, relocation of Dave & Buster's for its newest prototype, construction of a 3-acre "highly amenitized" outdoor plaza, and moving the food court are among the elements scheduled to start in the summer.
New shops and restaurants are planned on the lower floor of the apartment buildings and elsewhere on the property at Route 60 (Townline Road) and Route 21 (Milwaukee Avenue). Offerings include a prospective grocer as well as Perry's Steakhouse & Grill, which is under construction at Milwaukee Avenue and Ring Road.
The big picture by Dallas-based mall owner Centennial Real Estate has been to repurpose the 50-year-old shopping center and property to a multiuse campus and gathering place with new entry points and areas for people to live, work, shop, eat, be entertained or enjoy the spaces.
"It needs to be more," Rutzen said at the ceremonial groundbreaking in March 2021. "It needs to become the hub for the community that we've always believed ourselves to be."
Veteran village Trustee Thom Koch said he hopes the area with its large open space will become a pedestrian-friendly, community gathering place.
"We've never had a downtown," he said of the project during a lunch event Thursday featuring mayors of neighboring towns. "We're hoping this will give us more a central feel to the community."
Rutzen this week said the shopping center remains the centerpiece but that when all is said and done, about half the original 1.3 million square feet of the mall property will have been absorbed and reworked.
Centennial last year dropped the word "mall" and refers to the property as the Hawthorn campus, a nod to the vision of an area intended to offer much more than the original experience.
"The mall, the shopping center, is part of our genetics -- it's still the centerpiece, the key component," Rutzen said. "It's just not going to be as big as it was."
In preparation for the next phase beginning in a month or so, more than 100,000 square feet of interior space will be removed to create room for additional retail options elsewhere on the campus.
According to Centennial, some retailers may leave, but others will relocate and new ones added to fill ground-floor spaces at The Domaine and another 250-unit complex to begin construction in summer. A total of 561 luxury apartments are planned as part of Hawthorn 2.0.
No retailers have been named, but Centennial says it's talking with a number of "foundational tenants, modern contemporary brands and direct-to-consumer retailers" to fill the spots.
"The plan beginning to unfold at Hawthorn is the result of years of planning, consultations with city leaders and community members, and designs and adaptations unique to this property," according to Sam Whitebread, Centennial's vice president for tenant coordination and construction. "There is nothing cookie-cutter about what is to come."
The Domaine consists of two, 4-story buildings flanking what is known as Hawthorn Row, a stylized streetscape. Centennial is creating a new shopping and dining experience with residential buildings and other elements, according to John C. Melaniphy III, president of Chicago-based retail consultant Melaniphy & Associates Inc.
"It provides an urban feel in a suburban setting," he said. Centennial also owns Fox Valley Mall in Aurora.
Traditional malls across the country and in the area are in similar positions of having to reinvent themselves, Melaniphy said.
The Hawthorn project is ahead of the curve because of the resources, experience and patience of Centennial, he said.
"They've made significant progress where others haven't been able to do so," he said. "Centennial and the village have done a fantastic job of keeping the development moving."
Vernon Hills is providing $46.5 million in "pay-as-you-go incentives" through a special taxing district as various aspects of the work are completed.