Retail N Illinois

Centennial unveils "Central Park" transformations for two Chicago-area malls

Hawthorn Mall in Vernon Hills, Illinois. Hawthorn Mall in Vernon Hills, Illinois.
Fox Valley Mall in Aurora, Illinois. Fox Valley Mall in Aurora, Illinois.
Fox Valley Mall in Aurora, Illinois. Fox Valley Mall in Aurora, Illinois.
Fox Valley Mall in Aurora, Illinois. Fox Valley Mall in Aurora, Illinois.
Fox Valley Mall in Aurora, Illinois. Fox Valley Mall in Aurora, Illinois.
Fox Valley Mall in Aurora, Illinois. Fox Valley Mall in Aurora, Illinois.

Centennial, a Dallas-based real estate investment firm with a national portfolio of shopping, dining, entertainment and mixed-use destinations, has revealed plans for its redevelopment of two Chicago-area malls: Hawthorn Mall in Vernon Hills, Illinois, and Fox Valley Mall in Aurora, Illinois. Each property’s dated center court space will be converted into a vibrant, multi-use “central park” environment that will enhance the experience of existing customers and draw new visitors to each mall.

With the help of international design firm Stantec and construction services expert Graycor Construction Company, Centennial will invest over $12 million to re-imagine the two centers’ 31,115 square feet of underutilized center court space as brand new, outdoor-themed destinations where people will congregate, relax and spend time with one another year-round, no matter the weather.

“When developers purchase shopping centers built several decades ago and work to redevelop them in more modern and engaging ways, they face significant challenges in increasing traffic and adding new tenants,’” said Steven Levin, Centennial’s CEO. “It’s a chicken-and-egg scenario; to increase traffic, you need new retailers, restaurants and entertainment venues. And to attract those new tenants, you need significant foot traffic and strong sales. By creating these engaging, never-before-seen energy anchors, we’re enhancing the relevance of these shopping centers as destinations people want to visit and spend time and money in, and as a result, we’re simultaneously solving both challenges.”

While shopping centers have long provided visitors with gathering places, many of these “center court” and other traditional spaces have simply become places people congregate because they are already at the mall—they’re not destinations in and of themselves. Centennial plans to create immersive gathering places that act not only as a destination, but “the” destination, and another reason people come to the mall.

These park-like spaces at Hawthorn Mall and Fox Valley Mall will combine green and hardscaped designs with improved aesthetic appeal to encourage year-round usability. Ringed by restaurants and entertainment options, visitors will think of these spaces as true destinations for their off time, completely distinct and separate from mere resting places at a shopping center.

“Both spaces will be park-like settings, but it’s important to note that each concept was designed specifically for the markets in which each mall resides,” said Whitney Livingston, COO, projects at Centennial. “While these spaces will absolutely feel like a park with comfortable seating and quiet places to read a book, technology will also play an important role in giving shoppers unique physical and emotional experiences each time they visit. Some ideas we are exploring include projection mapping of soccer balls or butterflies that move so children can ‘chase’ them through the park as well as a modern-day musical version of hopscotch. Each park-like setting will also have an entire program of events from bands to yoga—and each event program will be planned specifically to cater to the wants and needs of the visitors at that specific center.”

The 15,190-square-foot design for Hawthorn Mall will deliver a sophisticated park-like experience that combines a coffee shop/wine bar with a lush landscape accessorized by engaging lawn games, an interactive water feature and attractive, comfortable soft seating. Two tree-like sculptures will deliver an artistic feel that connects the upper and lower levels of the mall, while two contemporary lounges just above the north and south edges of the park will create an extension of the park on the second level. The existing ceiling will be replaced with a more modern lamella-style ceiling and new avant-garde lighting features.

At Fox Valley Mall, the 15,925-square-foot center court space will be divided into the brand-new lower-level, park-like adaptation as well as two platforms on the second level that will simultaneously create social gathering spaces on the upper level and pocket park spaces below. Each lower-level pocket park will feature its own night sky- or nature-inspired ceiling. Coordinating elements that will make the design feel park-like include string lighting and trellis features, shrouding columns and bulkheads with decorative wooden blocks and plants and the addition of fox sculptures to the water fountain and other areas throughout the design.