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Morton Grove Center The Latest Of Suburban Shopping Malls Getting New Looks For E-Commerce Age

Kenington's vision for the new Sawmill Station in Morton Grove, Ill.

Everyone is familiar with the struggles of brick-and-mortar retailers to survive in the e-commerce era, but developers and investors still see opportunities in suburban shopping centers.

Oak Brook-based Kensington Development Partners and IM Properties just became the latest group to embark on an ambitious plan to remake an outmoded retail center into a mixed-use complex they say will thrive in the internet age.

The pair received unanimous approval last week from the Plan Commission of the Village of Morton Grove to transform the retail center formerly known as Prairie View Plaza into Sawmill Station, a 240K SF collection of new shopping, dining and entertainment options, along with a 240-unit multifamily project overlooking the forest preserve on the eastern portion of the property. The new name pays tribute to Miller’s Mill erected by John Miller in 1841.

Cook County property records show Kensington paid $11.3M in September for the 26-acre property, located on the southeast quadrant of Dempster Street and Waukegan Road. Earlier this year, it tore down the center’s former Dominick’s space and others to pave the way for future construction.

In addition to securing the commission’s approval, the partners revealed a roster of new tenants and plans for the multifamily component.

Kensington principal John Schoditsch said the joint venture has conducted lease negotiations with Flix Brewhouse theater and brewery, Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant, Kohl’s Department Store, LA Fitness Signature Club, an unnamed grocery store and several others.

“The fast progress speaks to the common vision and aggressiveness of the team along with the retail market’s appetite for a well-conceived project like Sawmill Station,” Schoditsch said.

He didn’t say how much total retail space these tenants would occupy. He also didn’t specify a development timeline, but joint venture and village officials said they hope to see new retailer openings in 2020.

Similar efforts are underway throughout the suburbs. Edwards Realty Co., an Orland Park, Illinois-based company, bought Burr Ridge Village Center in January for $15M, $70M below its original construction cost. Like Kensington and IM Properties’ plan for Sawmill Station, Edwards Realty envisions it becoming a village center, with a focus on entertainment and services, rather than a place just for shopping.

Kensington is experienced at reviving suburban retail. It recently purchased a Kmart in west suburban Lombard, and a Dominick’s-anchored center off 75th Street in Naperville, and redeveloped each into a new Mariano’s, the region’s hottest grocer.