North Riverside officials and residents have maintained for years that the key to keeping property taxes low – at least those that go to fund village government – is optimizing revenues elsewhere.
That “elsewhere” is the concentration of commercial retail properties that line Harlem Avenue from 18th Street to 26th Street and Cermak Road from Harlem to Lathrop avenues.
It’s a regional shopping mecca that most prominently includes the North Riverside Park Mall, which local residents alternately sneer at and depend on to fund critical village operations.
The global financial crisis of 2008-12 coupled with a very real change in brick-and-mortar retailing gave North Riverside insight into depending solely on an aging model for producing revenue through sales taxes.
All three of the North Riverside Park Mall’s anchor tenants have undergone difficult bankruptcy proceedings – ones that ended in liquidation for Carson Pirie Scott and Sears – and the owner of the shopping center itself, The Feil Organization, fended off a foreclosure action due to the appraised value of the mall nosediving far below its indebtedness.
What’s clearer more than ever is that the shopping mall model of the 1970s through the 1990s is long past over.
Four years ago the village of North Riverside formed an ad hoc Economic Development Commission to brainstorm visions for the future of the village’s commercial core.
What they settled on was what they themselves described as a “mini-Rosemont” – an entertainment and restaurant district centered in and around the mall property.
Now it appears that The Feil Organization, which has now acquired the Carson’s property, may be thinking along the same lines, pitching what was described as a mixed-use residential and commercial development on the west side of the mall.
Concepts are still vague, but that’s the general idea, and it would fundamentally transform that property and impact neighboring properties to the west, which now face mostly empty parking lots.
Whether or not The Feil Organization can expand on that concept for the two other anchor properties is unclear. The former Sears site just sold to another big realty firm while Penney’s sits in a real estate trust much like Seritage, likely waiting for the right buyer to take it off their hands.
While North Riverside doesn’t have the arterial infrastructure to match Rosemont, village residents and officials might be on their way to getting a version of what the Economic Development Commission dared to dream of in 2019.
The key is whether the village is up to the task of managing the impacts such development would surely have.