Photo by Joe Boyle
Slabs of concrete are what remains of what was once The Plaza at 95th Street and Western Avenue in Evergreen Park.
Construction plans for the new Evergreen Marketplace, which is replacing the demolished Plaza shopping center, will begin sometime this summer, according to Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton.
“All of the buildings are mostly down except for Carson’s,” said Sexton on Friday. “In a month or so, plans are scheduled to begin for construction of the Marketplace. Everything is going well, it’s ahead of schedule. All of us are very excited.”
Sexton delivered the first blow with a sledgehammer to the old Montgomery Ward’s building during the demolition proceedings of The Plaza last fall. The beginning of the demolition drew a large crowd to witness this event.
The Evergreen Plaza opened in 1952 as an open-air shopping center developed by Arthur Rubloff. The shopping center grew in popularity and became one of the first enclosed malls in the country in 1966. The mall at its peak in the 1970s had Carson Pirie Scott, Montgomery Ward’s, Woolworth’s, Lytton’s and Walgreens.
While still profitable in the 1980s, the opening of the Chicago Ridge Mall in 1981 and to a degree the expansion of the Orland Park Mall led to the Plaza’s demise. After Montgomery Ward closed in 2001, the Plaza suffered through numerous more vacancies escalated by the recession in 2008. By 2013, The Plaza was virtually closed with the exception of Carson’s and a couple of other businesses.
Sexton said he had fond memories of The Plaza. But the Evergreen Park mayor said its time had passed and a retail center with 25 to 30 stores will be more efficient. A visit to the old Plaza site on Saturday was mostly rubble until traveling further south where Carson’s is located. The other symbol of the old shopping center is The Plaza sign that is still located at the corner of 95th Street and Western Avenue. The lone traffic that goes into the parking lot now is for an Applebee’s that faces 95th Street not far from The Plaza sign.
The Evergreen Park mayor said that Applebee’s will remain at an outlet restaurant for the new mall. However, the current Carson’s will be torn down in the fall and will be replaced by a more modern Carson’s. Sexton said that the first retailers will start to occupy portions of the new Evergreen Marketplace in the spring of 2017.
“We can’t wait to see them opening up,” said Sexton “We want to hear those cash registers sing.”
Businesses that are scheduled to occupy the 400,000-foot-square facility over 32 parcels are T.J. Maxx, DSW Shoes, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Petco and a 365 Whole Foods Market, which is a more economical version of the Austin, Texas-based chain.
This project is being led by Lorimax Stein Development, based out of Bloomfield Hills, MIch., and partner DeBartolo Development. A Lorimax representative said that the project should be completed by the fall of 2017.
Sexton can’t help but see the irony over retailers contacting the village frequently to be located in Evergreen Park. It was not that long ago, especially after the economic downturn in 2008, that retailers avoided Evergreen Park, the mayor said.
“Things have changed tremendously,” said Sexton. “I have been trying to persuade developers to come to Evergreen Park. The past six or seven years have been a struggle but it has been changing. But it isn’t all me, it is through the hard work of our attorney, commissioners and trustees that we have turned this around.”
Sexton said prospects have changed so dramatically for Evergreen Park that the village can be more stringent when allowing businesses into the community.
“Retailers have discovered the area.” said Sexton. “Instead of filling places with cellphone companies, we can be more selective. I think it’s because of our overall team. It’s certainly not me.”
But the bottom line for Sexton is that the economic future for Evergreen Park looks bright.
“We are glad to have these businesses,” said Sexton. “We are glad they are coming.”