Photo by Joe Boyle
The faded image of Carson's is still present outside the closed store at the Chicago Ridge Mall. Dick's Sporting Goods has tentatively agreed to occupy up to 50,000 square feet of the property and could open in August of 2021.
By Dermot Connolly
With the local economy reopening further under Phase 4, shoppers returning to Chicago Ridge Mall received additional good news last week.
Dick's Sporting Goods store may become the new anchor at the mall, replacing Carson's, which closed two years ago.
During the June 16 Chicago Ridge Village Board meeting held via Zoom, representatives of Starwood Retail Properties, which owns the mall, explained that Dick’s Sporting Goods has tentatively agreed to lease 50,000 square feet of space, two-thirds of the prime first-floor location that has been largely unoccupied since Carson’s closed in 2018.
“ We have a very unique opportunity to fill a big hole in the anchor lineup,” said Vince Corno, chief operating officer for Starwood.
“ Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the mall business was certainly trending, and not in a good direction,” said Corno, pointing to pressure from online retail and big-box stores. Noting that the need to close malls entirely for three months “has accelerated the trends,” he said being able to attract Dick’s Sporting Goods “is an exceptional opportunity” to help reverse the downward trend at Chicago Ridge Mall.
Donna Pugh, an attorney for Starwood, hailed the longtime partnership between the mall and the village, and explained that the deal will require “municipal assistance.”
“ The mall does have challenges, retail has challengers. But we have an opportubity to remedy many of them. To help fund the cost of renovating the site, we are asking you to create a business district encompassing the entire mall,” said Pugh.
She said there would be a half-cent retail tax assessed within the business district that will go toward paying off $5 million in municipal bonds that the village would issue. Starwood plans to invest another $5 million, making it a 50-50 partnership.
“ This is an exceptional opportunity,” said Corno, a former top real estate executive for Dick’s Sporting Goods.
“ This (location) is a good fit for Dick’s Sporting Goods. But in its own right, they know they are a compelling draw for any regional mall. They do drive hard deals,” he said.
The board agreed to hold a public hearing on the plan at their next meeting, set for 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 7. Village attorney Michael Stillman said the redevelopment agreement with the mall, and creating the business district will be the focus, and residents can share their opinions.
“ It has been a great partnership with the mall. I am thrilled about this,” said Mayor Chuck Tokar, pointing out that creating the business district and issuing bonds “would not cost Chicago Ridge taxpayers one penny.”
“ (Dick’s Sporting Goods) felt there was a gap in their presence in the south suburban area. They were looking at Evergreen Park so I am glad they chose us,” said Tokar, noting that the closest store now is in Orland Park.
“ There is a lot of work to do on the site,” said the mayor. “They won’t use the second floor, so something will have to be done about the escalator that is there now.”
The mayor said discussions and negotiations are currently underway with other businesses considering taking over the remaining 25,000 square feet on the ground floor of the former Carson’s property
He said that creating the business district encompassing the mall will help refurbish the entire mall.
“ Having Dick’s there will incentivize a lot of other retailers to want to come in,” Tokar said.
Corno said if all goes according to plan, Dick’s Sporting Goods will take on the lease in July and open the new store in August 2021.
“ It is an exceptional commitment in its own right” by the company to allow the plan to be made public this early in the process.
“ W e want to make this redevelopment a bellwether for coming generations,” said Corno.
Shoppers have been coming back to the mall in relatively high numbers since the reopening. During a visit this week, there were lines of people outside several stores, due to new occupancy limitations. Most, if not all people were wearing masks, as required.
Several trustees asked the mall representatives to enforce all the social distancing and cleanliness regulations.
“ We have a comprehensive plan in place,” said Corno. “We control the common areas of the mall, but the retailers (control) the density in their own stores.”
“ Our concerns are we don’t want it to become a COVID hotspot. We do want to look on ourselves as having a partnership with you,” said Trustee Ed Kowalski.