What’s future of Northfield Square mall?

September 30, 2018

BRADLEY — What could Northfield Square mall and its surrounding property be in coming years?

Could there be potential for residential living? Could development take place within the existing structure? Should a portion of the complex be demolished? Should retail be abandoned?

Those are just a few of the questions local government and business leaders are looking to answer after a late August meeting with officials from the mall ownership group, Namdar Realty Group.

Two area leaders, Tim Nugent, president and CEO of the Economic Alliance of Kankakee County, and Bruce Adams, Bradley mayor, were part of the five-member group that met with the Great Neck, N.Y.-based company.

Opened in 1990, the 527,000-square-foot complex at Interstate 57’s Exit 315 interchange has largely been struggling from its earliest days.

Currently, the mall has an occupancy rate of about 40 percent and three of its anchor stores — Sears, Carson’s Men’s and Carson’s Women’s — closed earlier this year. These three stores account for about 248,000 square feet of empty retail space.

“They (Namdar) were very clear that they are investors and that’s what they do,” Adams said. “They will continue to try to find tenants for retail space.”

This means, Adams said, whatever changes could come to Northfield will have to be brought forward locally.

“They said this is our (community’s) mall. But they are willing to work with us on redeveloping the site,” Adams said. “They would like this to be a flourishing mall, but if there are other ideas, they want us to bring them forward.”

The local contingent also included Jeff Bennett, of McColly-Bennett Real Estate; Jeff Hammes, Peoples Bank of Kankakee president; and Todd Troeger, a Peoples Bank commercial lender.

The next step in this process will be a Wednesday meeting between the five who met with Namdar; Catherine Wojnarowski, Bradley’s village administrator; Barbi Brewer-Watson, Kankakee County Chamber of Commerce president/CEO; and Staci Wilken, Kankakee County Convention & Visitors Bureau director.

The gathering will consist of a review of the Namdar meeting and beginning discussions as to what the mall’s vision could be or not be.

Namdar purchased Northfield in July 2016 for $9.6 million. Northfield is far from the only struggling U.S. mall. Malls across the country are being shuttered. An estimated 20 to 25 percent of the United States’ 1,100 malls could be out of business by 2020, according to retail reports.

The more obvious problem with Northfield, from Kankakee County’s point of view, is it rests squarely in the center of the area’s most rapidly developing region.

To its south is the shopping area anchored by Lowe’s, Menards and Meijer. There also is the CSL Behring complex set to begin a billion-dollar-plus expansion.

To the north is the Bradley Commons shopping complex anchored by Kohl’s and Walmart. To the west is the retail development featuring Target and Barnes & Noble.

“It’s nice to understand that they want the property to be a bright spot in the community,” Adams said. He said Namdar understood Northfield’s importance to not only Bradley, but the region.

Nugent, who is also Manteno’s mayor, reported Thursday to the Economic Alliance board of directors that Namdar is open to any idea the community can come up with to reinvigorate the site.

But one thing is clear, he said: Namdar is not interested in making a huge investment into the property.

Nugent said he came away from the meeting encouraged.

“They are engaged,” Nugent said. “But they made it clear they are investors, not developers. ... Whatever plan is developed, it has to make financial sense to them. They are businessmen.”

Hammes, who arranged the meeting in New York, had worked with Namdar ownership in the past.

“It’s always better to meet someone face-to-face. They are definitely interested in Kankakee County,” Hammes said. “They are open-minded to what this property could be. That’s a big step.”

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