While North Riverside Park Mall experienced a rough 2018 with the loss of one anchor retailer, the downsizing of another and the closure of a sizeable clothing store on the lower level, the shopping center’s general manager said first-quarter revenues were slightly stronger year over year and that 2020 could see greater strides.
In a phone interview with the Landmark last week, general manager Harvey Ahitow said the shopping center at 7501 Cermak Rd. has serious interest by multiple suitors in the former Carson Pirie Scott anchor property on the mall’s west side.
“We’re actually trying to figure out which one is best for our property,” said Ahitow. “There’s definitely some pain going on, but I do think we’re going to come out of this better than we were before.”
Mall officials are considering three options for the Carson’s property, two of which would result in the existing big box being demolished and replaced with a new structure. Ahitow declined to name the companies interested in redeveloping the space, because no deal has been finalized.
One of the suitors interested in the site is a retailer that would demolish the Carson’s box and construct its own new prototype store, said Ahitow. Another would redevelop the existing structure and lease it out to multiple retail tenants.
The third option, which also involved tearing down the existing big box, would be to redevelop the site for “an entertainment/sports concept,” according to Ahitow.
“All three seem very interested in the opportunity, so we’re excited about that,” Ahitow said.
One sticking point on moving ahead with a preferred concept is the ownership status of the Carson’s property, which simultaneously is in foreclosure and enmeshed in an ongoing bankruptcy case.
A corporation called WEC 98C-4 LLC, connected to Robert A. Wilson of West Palm Beach, Florida, owns the property. Bankruptcy court records also associate WEC 984-C LLC with Wilson Associates of East Rutherford, New Jersey.
In 1998, WEC 984-C LLC obtained a $14 million mortgage on the property from TOCU II LLC, which appears to be connected to Long Beach, California-based PIMCO Investment Management.
Last September, TOCU II LLC initiated foreclosure proceedings on the property, which is tied up in the ongoing bankruptcy case involving Carson Pirie Scott’s former owners, The Bon Ton Stores.
“It’s an absolute mess,” said Ahitow, who added that an offer by North Riverside Park Mall’s parent company, The Feil Organization, to purchase the property was rejected.
In response to an email from the Landmark, John Suzuki, the court-appointed receiver for the former Carson’s property, declined to comment on its status due to the pending litigation.
Movie theater expansion?
Ahitow also said the mall has a “fully executed letter of intent” from Classic Cinemas to move ahead with their long-planned expansion of the movie theater, which would double the number of screens from six to 12.
While the lease is still being negotiated and building plans have not yet been submitted to the village, Ahitow said the project could break ground next spring.
“Classic Cinemas continues to do very robust business there,” Ahitow said.
Chris Johnson, CEO of Classic Cinemas, declined comment, saying it was premature to announce any plans.
Classic Cinemas first floated the possibility expanding the movie theater’s footprint at North Riverside Park Mall in 2015.
Health club eyed for Sears Auto Center
Ahitow also said Seritage Growth Properties, which owns the anchor property at the north end of the mall as well as the freestanding Sears Auto Center at 7503 Cermak Road, has a “fully executed lease” with a health club to repurpose about three-quarters of the auto center for that purpose.
He said he’s not sure when Sears Auto Center will be vacating the space, and Ahitow said he wouldn’t be surprised if some site remediation might be necessary there due to its longtime use as a vehicle repair garage.