Demolition proceedings began yesterday for The Plaza, a mall that had been in existence for over 63 years in Evergreen Park but had fallen on difficult times in this century.
Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton was scheduled to attend the first phase of the demolition. Plans to demolish the once iconic mall was finalized this spring after several false starts. Sexton admits that part of Evergreen Park history is being leveled for a newer upscale facility.
“There is a little bit of sadness about this,” said Sexton on Monday. “My parents used to bring me shopping here for my Easter clothes and other things. We used to go to the Plaza before we moved here.”
Sexton, who has lived in the village for over 40 years, said that unfortunately times have changed and The Plaza was a victim. Once the demolition proceedings are complete, construction of the outdoor Evergreen Marketplace will take place. The majority of the new stores will face Western Avenue.
“Naturally, all of us smaller municipalities are looking for ways of raising more revenue,” said Sexton. “This is a challenge but you have to stay on top of things.”
The Evergreen Marketplace, according to Sexton, will have at least 20 to 25 stores depending on how many outlots are added.
“Dick’s Sporting Goods and Whole Foods have expressed an interest and they are still talking. But nothing has been confirmed yet,” added Sexton.
The Plaza, formerly known as the Evergreen Plaza, essentially closed in 2013 after it had been in foreclosure since 2011. Most stores ceased operating on May 31, 2013. Currently, a Planet Fitness is in operation along the west end of the mall facing 95th Street. An Applebee’s restaurant was drawing steady business on Saturday from an outlot on the north end of the mall facing Western Avenue.
A Carson’s has been operating on the south end. Enterprise Car Rental has had a business on the south end facing Western Avenue. Sexton said the Carson’s will be rebuilt with plans to have it operating again by Thanksgiving in 2016.
Based in suburban Detroit, Lormax Stern Development Co. is coordinating the Marketplace project with DeBartolo Development from Tampa. Ecco Demolition Contractors from Markham is taking care of the demolition.
The Evergreen Plaza opened in 1952 as an open-air shopping center developed by Arthur Rubloff. This was considered the first mall in America. The first tenants were Jewel and Kroger grocery stores and Carson’s. A small department store called The Fair later opened. Woolworth’s, Lytton’s and Walgreens were added.
The rows of shops that were added in that decade and into the 1960s were new at the time. The mall was enclosed in 1966, which was a unique feature during that period and quickly copied.
In the 1970s, The Fair store became Montgomery Ward. The mall has been expanded many times over the years. A food court was added in the 1980s.
But The Plaza began to see a dip in sales in the 1990s due to competition from Ford City on Chicago’s Southwest Side and the opening of the Chicago Ridge Mall in 1981. Orland Park Mall began to draw more shoppers from the south and southwest suburbs.
Changes that began in 2000 resulted in a high turnover rate at The Plaza. Montgomery Ward closed in 2001 as the whole chain went under. This left a huge vacancy near the north end of the mall. Circuit City and Walgreens both closed in 2005.
A fire caused extensive damage to holiday decorations in December 2007. The mall had to be closed for two days. The recession that gripped the nation in 2008 had a negative effect on The Plaza. The former Wards, a 225,000 square foot structure, could never fully be leased after it closed.
Sexton believes better days are ahead. The mayor said he will always have fond memories of the mall he shopped at going back to his youth.
“Well, the history of The Plaza has to go back to Arthur Rubloff, who had the foresight to open the mall,” said Sexton. “They had quality shops and that was the difference. Now we are going to get back to quality shops with the Marketplace.”