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Daily Journal
     October 22, 2020      #33-296 KDJ

Northfield Square mall a top target of development

By Lee Provost

BRADLEY — The Northfield Square mall has been called many things since it opened in 1990, but as the village begins taking steps toward a redevelopment push, one thing is very clear.

The approximate 53-acre site where the mall sits at Illinois 50/Kinzie Avenue and West Broadway Street is extremely important to any plans the village has regarding moving forward.

In fact, the development team hired by the village board to help put together these plans makes it clear during the first public meeting that the mall property is the site to start redevelopment due to its high visibility and strategic location within the community.

Ferhat Zerin, design planner for Ginkgo Planning & Design of Chicago, explained during the nearly 90-minute meeting Thursday night at Bradley Village Hall, that they mall is in need of dramatic changes and those changes could include creating a vast open air space in the center of the property — anywhere from 3 to 5.25 acres in size — creating a large green space.

Further, she said, she could envision other areas being removed because the mall is simply too large for today’s local retail and the site would be better used for restaurants, residential and small-shop retail.

“This mall is a priority redevelopment site, not just for Bradley, but the region as a whole,” said Lance Dorn, a principal with S.B. Friedman, the firm leading the design effort for the mall for the village.

A second public forum is set for 6 to 8 p.m. Nov. 17. The goal is to have strategic plans ready for presentation to the Bradley Village Board in early 2021.

Zerin said the mall property can be described a “mega block.” Basically, she explained, it is a large property in need of extensive redevelopment. She said the issue with mega block properties is the sites are too large for any single entity to tackle. She said development would likely be completed in small parcels.

“It will have to be something more manageable. What should be demolished and what should be kept?” she said.

Whatever concept is ultimately chosen, she noted, it must include plenty of outdoor space.

She shared preliminary plans for creating a 5.25-acre green area basically in the center of the mall. Another concept included a 3-acre green space, also near the location’s center.

“It’s critical to have meaningful green space, something which can be used in every season,” she said.

She noted she has worked with several communities with very similar mall issues and the locations can be redeveloped.

Northfield Square has been on a downward spiral almost from the day it opened. It is now a location without a retail anchor as its four anchor stores have closed or are in the process of closing. Its only major attraction now is Cinemark Movies 10. She said it is imperative to keep the area near the theater as vibrant as possible.

While the mall was constructed only 30 years ago, she said it is past its time. She said retail sites like this cannot survive strictly on retail. There must be significant diversification.

The process will certainly be costly, but changes such as these are far from impossible, she noted.

“It’s difficult to talk about this is these economic times. No one knows what the future might be,” she said.

And it is easier to complete a transformation when the area remains strong. The mall, she noted, is surrounded by many positives. She said it becomes extremely difficult to turn around a development after it has been shuttered. She cited the closed Lincoln Mall in Matteson as an example.

Regarding the 10-block stretch of Broadway between the railroad viaduct and Kennedy Drive, said this corridor would likely be driven by local business as this area would be more suited to smaller-type shops. The planners noted the street also lacks an anchor, outside of the village hall. They said a public gathering spot would ideally suit Broadway.

“The mall is a destination,” Zerin said. “Broadway is for the community. It’s much smaller, more intimate.” The goal is to get people to think of this section of Broadway as a “walkable” area, a location with a feeling of neighborhood.

Prior to the mall, Broadway was a key retail district within the village.

She described two areas where development could begin on Broadway. She said the eastern region anchored by the village hall and governmental offices at Wabash Avenue and the area at Cleveland Street, where the vacant former fitness center resides.

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