The management of the North Riverside Park Mall and Sears are still working on deals to bring a pair of restaurants to outlots at the mall, 7501 Cermak Road, but their ability to land Red Lobster and Longhorn Steakhouse may have received a lift, courtesy of the North Riverside Village Board last month.
At their meeting on July 16, North Riverside trustees voted to approve waiving building permit fees related to both restaurants once those deals are finalized with the mall.
Village Administrator Guy Belmonte said that, based on estimates for construction provided by the restaurants’ parent company, Darden Restaurants, the permit fees for the two buildings combined would have amounted to between $120,000 and $150,000.
“Darden came to the village looking for a monetary incentive,” said Belmonte.
The company initially asked for an incentive tied to sales taxes, said Belmonte. Over a three-year period, Darden was looking for a $220,000 sales tax break, which would have represented one year’s worth of sales tax revenue from both restaurants for the village.
“We’ve never done that for a restaurant,” said Belmonte. “In our staff conversations with the mayor, we proposed waiving the building permit fees. They’re not getting money, but at least money isn’t coming out of their pocket.”
At least one of the restaurant deals, Red Lobster, is nearly complete, said Harvey Ahitow, general manager of the North Riverside Park Mall.
“We’re on the 99-yard line of a 100-yard field to agree on a lease,” he said of the Red Lobster deal. “I’d be extremely surprised if it’s not a reality by the fall of next year.”
Once the lease is signed, said Ahitow, the mall would demolish the former Advocate Health building, which stands in the parking lot near Olive Garden. The demolition is expected to happen this fall, with construction beginning in the spring of 2013.
The Longhorn Steakhouse deal is a little more complicated because Sears owns the property being eyed by Darden for that restaurant location. The restaurant would be located in the parking lot immediately north of Sears’ lower-level entrance.
Darden and Sears have entered into an agreement on the site, but the two sides “are working through some issues,” said Ahitow.
“I also feel confident that’ll happen,” Ahitow said. “But it’s a little further away from reality than Red Lobster.”
Ahitow said the mall is in negotiations with two other potential restaurant tenants for a location inside the shopping center. A chain restaurant and a locally based restaurateur are both interested in opening a sit-down restaurant with a full bar just inside the food court entrance.
The space, located on the south side of the food court, was originally built to house a restaurant but has never been used that way. It has housed various tenants through the years, including a record store. It’s home to an accessories store presently.
While the mall doesn’t figure to gain much directly in the way of revenue from the opening of the new outlot restaurants, Ahitow said they will be a positive for the mall.
“It brings traffic to the center,” he said. “Property owners go back and forth on does it translate to people going into the mall, but in my opinion the more traffic you bring to the property, the more wind up in the center.”
Business at North Riverside Park Mall is on the upswing, said Ahitow. Sales are up 6 percent year over year and traffic is up 4 percent, he said. The mall is 98-percent occupied and several new stores, including Aeropostale, America’s Kids, Crazy 8 and Justice, have opened in the last 12 months.
Several others, including Carson Pirie Scott, J.C Penney, Spencer’s Gifts, Lady Foot Locker, Victoria’s Secret, Kay Jewelers, EM Buffet and Mrs. Field’s, have opened new locations or are remodeling their existing locations.
Ahitow said that a raft of completed and planned improvements for the area around Cermak Road and Harlem Avenue and the prospect of Costco landing at the Edward Don property next door to the mall at 26th Street and Harlem Avenue can do nothing but increase traffic and attract tenants to the mall.
“When we bring new tenants to our center and they also look at what’s going on in and around the center, that’s all positive for our leasing efforts,” Ahitow said. “Right now we’re on a pretty good roll.”