Hawthorn mall in Vernon Hills proposes major expansion
Westfield Hawthorn Center shopping mall located at 122 Hawthorn Center in Vernon Hills. Barnes and Noble Booksellers and Carson Pirie Scott in background. Photo to go with story on sales tax. | Thomas Delany Jr~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 27, 2012 8:06AM
Westfield Hawthorn officials have proposed a multi-million expansion and renovation to its mall in Vernon Hills, which would include a new 12-screen cinema complex, new restaurant and retail spaces, new signage and updated entrances.
Officials presented a concept plan to the Vernon Hills Village Board April 17. The project was expected to cost in the $40 million-$50 million range. The mall is requesting about $7.5 million in sales tax rebates from the village over 20 years to help pay for the improvements.
The project still has to go through a formal review process before the Vernon Hills Planning and Zoning Commission and village board, but if everything goes as planned, mall officials hope to break ground on the project later this year and have it completed by late 2013.
Village trustees have been waiting for nearly a decade for the mall to come up with a revitalization plan and were initially impressed by what they saw.
“This is long overdue, and I’m happy to see it,” said trustee Tom Koch.
The major highlight of the project will include a two-story expansion to the northeast section of the mall, between Sears and JC Penney, which will feature a 45,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art cinema complex on the second level. The cinema will include 12 screens with 1,600 stadium-style seats and will be equipped with the latest movie and sound technology. In addition to a modern concession area, the cinema operator is proposing a separate lounge area, where alcoholic beverages will be served. Mall officials say they hope to announce the name of the cinema company in the near future.
The mall is also in negotiation with other potential tenants -- including two or three restaurants -- to fill remaining space on the ground level of the new expansion.
The mall is also proposing renovations to the three other entries. The mall is negotiating with several prospective tenants to occupy about 40,000-square-feet of vacant space, including a fitness center and a new restaurant where the former Ruby Tuesday restaurant was located.
Westfield Hawthorn development director Hike Kashima said the mall is trying to offer a range of shopping opportunities, services and entertainment options for its customers.
“We need to be visible, we need to catch customers attention and draw them in,” he said.
To attract customers’ attention, mall officials are also proposing new signage -- including two 48-foot tall monument signs at the mall access drives off of Route 60 and Milwaukee Avenue. The two monument signs will have the names of the mall stores and will include 18-foot tall LED digital panels on each side, where the mall can run advertisements.
Village trustee Jim Schultz voiced concerns the digital signs would be able to advertise off-site products or services over which the village would have little control to regulate content. For example, he said the signs could potentially advertise a casino or another product or service that is primarily intended for an adult audience.
“Anything that goes on the sign should be age-appropriate,” he said.
Village attorney Robert Kenny said because of First Amendment issues the village would not have the ability to regulate the content of what is advertised on the LED signs.
Westfield Hawthorn officials have proposed a sales tax sharing arrangement under which the village would share a portion of new sales tax revenues generated to help fund the project. Under the agreement, the mall would be rebated about $7.5 million in future sales tax revenues over a period of 20 years.
Village officials have hired a consultant to work out terms of a potential sales tax sharing agreement with the mall.
Assistant Village Administrator John Kalmar said he believes those issues can be resolved.
“The signage is probably the toughest issue other than the finances, but we think we can make this work,” he said.