Westfield proposes $40 million renovation at Vernon Hills mall
A $40 million investment into Westfield Hawthorn Mall could also bring an AMC theater and a new Dave & Busters. | Michelle LaVigne~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 7, 2013 10:54AM
VERNON HILLS— Westfield Hawthorn Mall is one vote away from getting its long-awaited AMC theater, plus a new Dave & Busters.
“This game changer is needed at this mall,” said John Genovese, Westfield’s senior vice president of development. “With the ability to buy things online, we have to appeal to a lifestyle and sell by using images and experiences.”
Genovese was one of nearly 20 corporate executives from Westfield, AMC and Dave & Busters who made presentations to the Vernon Hills planning and zoning commission last week.
Members of the commission agreed and approved the conceptual plans, with many saying they were enthusiastic about the projects. The group rejected only two measures: Westfield’s proposed 45-foot electronic sign and the use of advertisements that promote products not sold in Vernon Hills.
The AMC theater would have 12 screens and 1,200 total seats, including electric recliner chairs, an expanded concessions stand and an alcohol serving bar. While patrons can bring alcoholic drinks into the theater, the bar and lounge area itself is not accessible to the public without first purchasing a movie ticket.
Commissioners asked about the future of AMC Showplace Vernon Hills 8, which is located across from the mall about half a mile down Milwaukee Avenue.
“Our goal is to keep it open,” said Ron Herman, AMC vice president of properties. “AMC is a growing company, not a shrinking one. At this point, we do believe the city and surrounding area can support two locations. It will need some upgrades, however.”
AMC Rivertree Court was located adjacent to the mall, on the other side of Milwaukee Avenue, until it closed in 2010. The facility was renovated to become Goodman’s appliance store.
The new AMC complex would be a 44,000 square-foot addition to the mall. The Dave & Busters would be a 39,000 square-foot renovation of existing space on two levels — primarily the space GlowGolf is currently leasing.
Dave & Busters would have its own bar, dining area, bathrooms and as many as 200 electronic/arcade games. Representatives said Vernon Hills was targeted because of its balance of residential and commercial space.
The venue would be open from 11 a.m. to midnight Sundays through Thursdays, and from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Because of those operating hours, Dave & Busters also will have a non-mall entrance. It would conform to how Westfield plans to renovate its main entrances.
The mall also will get two new restaurants, filling the voids left by Ruby Tuesday and McCarthy’s Restaurant & Irish Pub.
During past meetings, Westfield said the mall’s renovations would cost $40 million to $50 million.
Genovese said Westfield would like to start construction by fall of this year, if the Vernon Hills village board approves the concepts during its Feb. 19 meeting. He said the mall will remain open during the work.
The board also will review the two items the plan commission rejected: off-site advertising and a 45-foot digital sign.
Hawthorn’s designs would include four signs for advertising along the mall’s exterior: two, 12-by-24-foot vertical media panels and two, 14-by-48-foot horizontal media panels for canvas advertising along the exterior of the mall.
Assistant Village Manager John Kalmar told commissioners that Vernon Hills has never allowed a property owner or tenant to advertise products they don’t sell on site, and that rule should apply to these new signs. A proposed compromise involved only advertising items or services that can be found in Vernon Hills.
But Village Attorney Robert Kenny said the First Amendment prohibits the village from dictating content that specific.
In addition, the roadside sign was rejected because the village’s sign ordinance limits sizes to 25 feet tall, and commissioners also didn’t want flashing lights to distract drivers.