Old Orchard Mall to Get $10 Million Facelift, New Sign
Skokie's village board agrees to permit a new massive sign as part of a $10 million renovation of Old Orchard.
Westfield Co., the owners of the Old Orchard mall, have expressed concerns about potential shoppers not being able to find the mall. A new sign of almost 50 feet makes it appear unlikely that will ever happen again.
Rejecting the October recommendation of the village’s Plan Commission, village trustees have approved the construction of 48 x 16 foot sign on the north side of the mall that will showcase the names of the major retailers and cinema complex. This action was taken at the Nov. 21 board meeting where Westfield officials stated how they were trying to bring new customers into the mall and at the same time, reminded the trustees how much money Skokie sees because of Old Orchard patrons.
The sign was the only controversial measure of an overall $10 million renovation of the mall, the first facelift Old Orchard will undergo since 1994. Now that the board has signed off, the sign itself could be constructed within six months and the renovations could be completed within 18 months, according to Westfield officials.
The new sign will be placed at the intersection of Lavergne Avenue and Old Orchard Road. Westfield officials cited concerns about drivers not being able to see the current seven-foot sign on Old Orchard Road because of the existing gas station signs and canopies. Therefore, they believed drivers were turning onto Lawler Avenue, instead of Lavergne, which would force them to drive all the way to the south side of the mall before getting another opportunity to enter the area.
Westfield believes an added benefit will be more shoppers will use the west side parking lot instead of the east side. Company officials have said there isn’t a parking problem at the mall, but labeled it a “parking distribution problem,” because too many drivers try to use the east side lot and not enough utilize the west side.
“Westfield hopes this will result in a more convenient, exciting shopping experience that will incentivize our shoppers to stay longer, spend more and return more often,” said Westfield Development Director Hide Kashima.
Westfield’s overall concern is to bring in consumers from all the way north to Milwaukee as well as enticing shoppers of all ages. However, the mall is generating plenty of traffic as vacancy rates and the mall has experienced double-digit growth the last three years despite the rough economic period.
A Money Generating Machine
Westfield’s presentation to the village board reminded trustees what the 1.7 million-square-foot mall means to the village as Chris Barnett, a senior vice president for the company stated how there 2500 retail employees at Old Orchard with 13 million visits a year. That translates into Old Orchard generating 40 percent of sales tax revenue, which translated into almost $9 million and 6 percent of the property tax revenue for Skokie.
There was no opposition from anyone in the audience about the sign, which the company assured trustees would be able to sustain wind gusts of over 60 MPH.
With trustee Michael Lorge dissenting, the rest of the trustees as well as Mayor George Van Dusen voted to allow the sign, despite an existing village limit of 18 feet.
“This is a friendly relationship and a good relationship but sometimes you have to say to your best friend no,” Lorge said. “Hopefully your best friend might understand why.”
Lorge added, “It seems [like] such overkill. In this day and age with GPS and computer directions that people often get before heading out to find a new wonderful shopping center like this, it just seems strange that this is so critical in terms of helping people find their way to the shopping center.”
However, the rest of the board saw the issue differently.
“I think it was a very unique situation given the perspective down Old Orchard Road,” said Trustee Randall Roberts. “With the Shell station canopy they could not make it any shorter and still accomplish the purpose.”
Trustee Michele Bromberg did not see a precedent emerging from this vote. “It’s a unique set of facts,” she said. ”I don’t think it will set a precedent, I think it is a case by case basis.”
The sign is one part of the upcoming renovation that will include new lighting and landscaping for patrons, weather protected areas, more valet parking opportunities and an electric car charging station. Trustees also agreed to allow up to 21 mobile retail-merchandising units – or kiosks – throughout the mall.
Westfield, which bought Old Orchard in 2002, would like to reach the sales of its Garden State Plaza in Paramus, NJ.
“There is no reason why Westfield Old Orchard could not join the flagship ranks but first it needs to grow,” Barnett said in classifying Old Orchard as very good, but not great. “We need to attract the right shops to Old Orchard so to attract these shops we need to create best practice shopping environments.”