I went on a journey of sorts last Thursday with Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton. He wanted to show me some of the projects that have been completed in the village, including the first phase of the new Evergreen Marketplace that replaces The Plaza.
Sexton was provided with a sledgehammer and given the privilege you could say of striking the first blow of the demolition process of The Plaza last October. Sexton put a large dent in the old Montgomery Ward’s building that had been vacant since the department store went out of business in 2001.
Montgomery Ward’s departure seemed to escalate the eventual end to The Plaza, the brainchild of developer Arthur Rubloff. The Plaza opened in 1952 and continued to grow through the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. Competition from newer malls and the recession that began in 2008 led to The Plaza’s demise.
But Sexton added another culprit to that mix.
“It was 9-11 that changed everything,” said Sexton while we took a tour of the new Evergreen Marketplace and other locations where businesses are now thriving in the village. “We are finally starting to recover.”
Sexton pointed to the Standard Bank building at 95th and Western as one of the first to come on board and show confidence in doing business with the village. Many businesses and developers were shaken after the terrorist attack on American soil that resulted in 2.996 people killed and over 6,000 injuries. Sexton said that Standard Bank’s involvement was a turning point.
Before we drove down 95th Street, he wanted to show me the new Carson’s, which represents the first phase of the retail businesses that will replace The Plaza. I was initially struck by the new Carson’s sign on the second floor of the façade. Workers were coming in and out. Equipment was on the first floor and second of this sparkling looking interior. This will be an anchor for a series of stores that will extend from 98th Street on the south and Campbell Avenue on the north.
Carson’s will be joined by DSW, Petco, T.J. Maxx, 365 by Whole Sale Foods and a Dick’s Sporting Goods Store, to name a few. For the time being, those eventual stores are blank spaces for now. Hovering in the background to the north were large piles of concrete that was once made up The Plaza. The old and the new could be viewed in an instant. The old Carson’s that was one of the anchor stores of the old Plaza is still standing across the parking lot just a block away, facing Western Avenue.
The old Carson’s will make way for the new Carson’s, which will open for the first time on Wednesday, Sept. 14. The doors to enter the old Carson’s will then be shuttered for good and will meet the wrecking ball as early as next January.
While Sexton misses The Plaza, he does not have time for nostalgia. We drove north along 95th Street to the site of the old Evergreen Park Golf Course that extended to north to 91st and Western and as far west as California Avenue. I golfed there a few times over the years and I mentioned that to Sexton. I did not tell him that I would often hit a few trees and lost a few golf balls.
But like The Plaza, I had not been there for a long time. The family-run course had fallen into disrepair over the years and negotiations were made to purchase the land and have it developed. The mayor admits that upset some people but he could not allow sentiment to impede progress.
“What people don’t realize is that you if sit around and wait for something to happen, another village will come in and attract businesses,” said Sexton. “You have to be aggressive. Over $100 million in sales are generated from this golf course property.”
He pointed to some of the businesses that have generated that revenue, like Meijer’s grocery store, Firehouse Subs, Crazy Crab, Michael’s, Menards, DXL men’s apparel, and a Triple AAA project that has yet be built.
He then drove west along 91st Street and pointed out that the village has three separate dog parks, a disc golf course that kids can play on for free, a farm in which vegetables are grown and are brought to pantries. Sexton pointed to the new driving range at 91st and Rockwell that is temporarily closed to make more improvements to the property that he said is a work in progress.
We then drove down 95th Street and he pointed to an empty business that could house a Wu’s House Hibachi Grill and Sushi that has received rave reviews at other locations. The Japanese steakhouse and sushi bar could be located at 95th and Sacramento. Sexton said the restaurant would be a great addition to Evergreen Park.
While The Plaza and the Evergreen Park Golf Course are now just memories, Sexton said the future looks bright for the village. After about an hour-long drive through the southwest suburb, I would have to agree. Memories are great, but progress is better.