Mall Makeovers, For Better or Worse

Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin reviews a few mall retrofits and finds that breathing life back into a dead mall can be a challenge.

The revision of the enclosed mall at One Schaumburg Place has proven to be an urban success. But others haven't worked so well.

"While the makeover is a garish architectural cartoon, Disneyland-on-the-Prairie, it is an urban design success, a gathering place that is still popular - and appears profitable - 10 years after it was finished. When the owners, Chicago developers Joseph Freed & Associates, announced in May that they were selling the Streets of Woodfield, they issued a statement saying the mall is 98 percent leased over the long-term. The mall even expanded recently by adding a Crate & Barrel and a Whole Foods Market.

Nevertheless, retrofits are by no means sure to attain smashing commercial success, as revealed by the saga of Park Forest's downtown mall."

Full Story: A mixed track record: Mall makeovers produce varied outcomes in two Chicago suburbs, Schaumburg and Park Forest



Unfair comparison

I enjoy many of Blair Kamin's reviews of architecture, but this column missed the mark. Comparing the success of Streets of Woodfield to the struggles of Downtown Park Forest is an apples to oranges comparison.

Streets of Woodfield is a 700,000 SF + retail center at the intersection of two interstate highways ( I-90 and I-290) each carrying more than 150,000 vehicles per day. It is also built on the front door of Woodfield Mall a "super-regional mall" cited as the largest in the Chicago and, depending on who is counting, among the top ten or top 25 largest malls in the country.

Downtown Park Forest (formerly Park Forest Plaza and then The Centre of Park Forest) is a mixed use project that after redevelopment has less than 200,000 SF of retail and office. It does not serve a regional shopping center. The highest traffic road serving the site is Western Avenue with traffic of 22,600 vehicles per day.

Kamin state that Downtown Park Forest " has not had much luck luring national retail chains". Having been deeply involved in the planning and construction of the redevelopment of Downtown Park Forest, I can state with certainty that there was not the expectation that Downtown Park Forest would attract a significant number of national tenants. The plan contemplated attracting locally owned small businesses and niche businesses, especially those businesses centered around the arts.

If Downtown Park Forest missed the mark, it was not in failing to attract national chains. Rather the attempt to do the redevelopment in multiple phases while minimizing debt taken on by the Village resulted in a project that had difficulty sustaining momentum and missed windows of opportunity in the real estate market. The initial attempt at residential development on the site failed for a number of reasons, and was another significant loss in momentum for the project. The residential that was eventually built is below the quality level and price point that were contemplated in the redevelopment plan.

When people don't see significant activity on all fronts early in the life of a redevelopment project the project is viewed as struggling. Once a project is viewed as struggling it faces more hurdles as it tries to attract tenants and residents. Downtown Park Forest has struggled and continues to struggle. But comparing it to Streets of Woodfield, which is about as close to a commercial real estate slam dunk as you can possibly get, is just not a fair comparison.

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