The Westfield Hawthorn Mall is headed for an expansion and remodeling project that would include a 12-screen movie theater, restaurants and upgraded mall entrances.
Westfield representatives presented their plan at a joint meeting of the Vernon Hills Village Board and the Planning and Zoning Board July 17, with time spent discussing architectural materials and signage.
"We're really excited to be here in front of the village again," said Hide Kashima, development director for Westfield.
Kashima and Westfield Vice President Michael Platt went through a slideshow that detailed proposed improvements for various sections of the mall. The largest part of the project is a planned addition that is planned for the northeast quadrant of the mall, between JC Penney and Sears.
The plan calls for 19,000 square feet of restaurants, retail space and a new mall entrance. There would also be a state-of-the-art, 12-screen cinema complex, Kashima said, that could include a bar for patrons. The cinema would be accessible from the mall.
The restaurants, which would be located on the lower-level of the addition, would include outdoor dining space. There could also be a drop-off zone and valet parking.
The addition would connect to an existing mall corridor. Kashima hopes to have a small restaurant in that corridor to draw attention and create activity.
"That transition is going to be very critical for us in the success of this new addition," said Kashima.
The exterior of the addition would include static signs that would be changed periodically.
The remaining mall entrances would all undergo upgrades, with tower-like structures that would be illuminated from within, creating a glowing look at night. Platt said these structures have not been used at any other Westfield properties.
"I think these are going to be spectacular entries," he said.
"We really just want to activate these entries," said Platt, adding that Westfield officials want the entrances to be vibrant and inviting.
Kashima said a tenant has already expressed interest in opening a restaurant at the vacant Ruby Tuesday site near the southwest mall entrance, located by the lower-level of Macy's. That mall entrance, along with the southeast entrance between Sears and Carson Pirie Scott, would include a static sign panel like those on the new addition.
The northwest entrance, between McCarthy's Restaurant and Macy's, would receive extra attention. It would include an extended canopy that drivers could stop under to drop people off.
"This is the one that I think is actually kind of exciting," said Platt, adding that Westfield wants to drive more traffic to that entrance.
Westfield officials are also proposing added directional signage around the mall's perimeter, along with two 48-foot-tall main signs that would include the Westfield name, a list of the mall's anchor stores and a full-motion LED screen. One sign would be located on Milwaukee Avenue, while the other would be on Route 60.
The LED panel could be used to advertise off-premises businesses. Village Attorney Robert Kenny said for the Vernon Hills to allow such advertising would require a change in the village's codes. Westfield would also have to seek approval from the state, which now only allows static signs that hold an image for 10 seconds - not full-motion signs, Kenny said.
"I don't know that the state's going to allow the moving message," said Kenny.
Assistant Village Manager John Kalmar questioned the need for the large signs, noting that the mall opened in 1974/75 and therefore has a long history in Vernon Hills.
"One of the things we're really focused on is expanding that market area," said Kashima. "We looked at, 'What are we missing here?'"
Kashima said the theater will definitely increase foot traffic, which will subsequently help Westfield officials attract tenants.
"But we also have to get those new customers," said Kashima. "These wayfinding signs … are really important to us."
Trustee Cindy Hebda said the mall has lost some really good stores and that people would like to see stores like Crate & Barrel and Talbot's return to the mall.
Which new tenants — including stores and restaurants — would you like to see at Hawthorn Mall? Tell us in the comment section.