Jan 29, 2024 - News

Chicago's suburban malls get new life

Photo of a space available sign outside a mall

The Stratford Square Mall in Bloomingdale, Illinois. Photo: Justin Kaufmann/Axios

Chicago's suburban mall towns are saving their once premiere shopping spaces — by redefining them.

Why it matters: Malls have been dying for the last decade-plus, causing economic uncertainty for many of the communities built around them.

The intrigue: Instead of letting malls fall into decay, many local municipalities are swooping in to purchase the shopping districts, hoping to revitalize them as community centers that provide sources of tax revenue.

Take Stratford Square: The Bloomingdale shopping center is considered a dead mall. Its directory lists over 125 stores, but when we visited on a recent weekday, only two or three were open.

  • A recent viral TikTok showing vacancy after vacancy at the west suburban mall has sparked nostalgic conversations about what once occupied these forgotten spaces.

Catch up fast: The Bloomingdale Village Board purchased Stratford Square Mall earlier this month for $8.75 million. The village has plans to redevelop the mall into more of a community gathering place, with restaurants and entertainment venues.

  • "It is an amazing start to a new rebirth at Stratford Square Mall," Village President Franco Coladipietro said at a village meeting this month.

The big picture: Mall vacancies are at their highest level in over 15 years, according to a November retail outlook report by JLL, a real estate services company.

  • In the age of e-commerce, many shopping centers are adding lifestyle experiences and attractions like entertainment venues and niche gyms as a way to attract visitors, Axios' April Rubin reports.

Zoom in: The village of West Dundee recently announced plans to acquire Spring Hill Mall.

  • Officials plan to demolish the mall and replace it with mixed-use housing, alongside shopping and restaurants.

What we're watching: Other municipalities aren't waiting for their community malls to fall into disrepair before taking action. Skokie is working with a developer to renovate the Old Orchard mall, announcing new anchor tenants and plans for a new park and live event space.

  • In Vernon Hills, the popular Hawthorn Mall is in the midst of a plan to create a "self-sustaining live-work-play campus" around the existing mall, which includes luxury apartments and a new Dom's Market.
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