August 14, 2022

Square Feet: Historic Illinois Mall Seeks New Life as Main St.

Randhurst, which opened in this inner-ring Chicago suburb in 1962, was the first enclosed mall in the Chicago area and, for a brief period, the largest enclosed mall in the world. The original architect was Victor Gruen, a Viennese immigrant with a socialist bent who, improbably, became the father of the modern enclosed mall.

Now, after a long period of decline, Randhurst is undergoing a $190 million overhaul that involves demolishing most of the original center and replacing it with an open-air street of shops and additional anchor tenants. The developer is Casto Lifestyle Properties of Sarasota, Fla.

“Our approach is to look for good real estate that has the wrong real estate product and that’s often the case with 40-year-old malls,” said Brett Hutchens, the president and chief executive of Casto Lifestyle Properties.

The new anchors include an AMC multiplex as well as a 120-room Hampton Inn and Suites hotel. In addition, the shopping street will include about 22,000 square feet of rentable second-floor office space.

The renovation at Randhurst is another sign of an end of an era in retailing that began in 1956 when Gruen — then in his late 40s after having been a store designer in New York and Los Angeles — unveiled Southdale Mall in the Minneapolis suburb of Edina.

Southdale consisted of two department stores at either end of an enclosed two-level retail arcade with a large public “garden court” with plantings, sculpture, a fishpond, a cafe and a 21-foot-high aviary.

M. Jeffrey Hardwick, Gruen’s biographer, said the garden court was central to the architect’s theories about retailing. “He believed that if you can keep people at the mall, if you entertain them long enough, they’ll eventually spend money,” Mr. Hardwick said.

Over the course of his long career, Gruen designed over 80 malls and shopping centers, including Northland and Eastland outside of Detroit;  South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, Calif.; and Cherry Hill Mall in New Jersey. In the process, he defined suburban shopping for the baby boom generation. 

Randhurst Mall, built six years after Southdale, included three department stores as well as a garden court with a “floating restaurant” surrounded by 20-foot-tall palm trees. The court was topped by a flying-saucerlike concrete dome that became a local landmark.

The cost was $21.5 million. At one million square feet, Randhurst was then the largest enclosed mall ever built.

“It had this mod-’60s design that was really breathtaking,” said Gregory T. Peerbolte, the author of “Randhurst: Suburban Chicago’s Grandest Shopping Center,” a new book on the mall. “It was the biggest thing that ever happened in Mount Prospect.”

The mall also had an indispensable cold-war accessory, an underground bomb shelter large enough to accommodate all of Mount Prospect’s 18,000-plus residents.

Randhurst dominated shopping in the area for the next decade before being overtaken by the even larger — four anchors, two million square feet of space — Woodfield Mall in nearby Schaumburg in 1971.

By the early 2000s, Randhurst was down to one anchor tenant and a handful of specialty stores.

During this period, mall management approved the construction of several freestanding big box stores like Costco and Home Depot along the perimeter of the 100-acre property. These stores are unaffected by the redevelopment.

The redeveloped center, which has been renamed Randhurst Village, essentially reverses Gruen’s concept while embracing his notion of shopping malls as community centers.

Larry Beame, president of Beame Architectural Partnership in Coconut Grove, Fla., the designer of the new center, said the goal was to create “a traditional Main Street shopping experience” with diagonal parking in front of the various storefronts and outdoor public spaces for dining and socializing.

The bomb shelter has been converted into underground parking for the new Hampton Inn and Suites hotel.

The new AMC Theater, which replaced an older AMC movie house, opened in April and has 12 screens and digital sound and projection.

The rest of the shopping center, about 800,000 square feet total, will open in phases over the next year.

Christina Sternberg, senior vice president of domestic development for AMC Entertainment, said the area’s demographics helped to explain the company’s decision to invest in a new theater at a mall that seemed at the end of its life cycle. “We feel there’s a population density there, there’s affluence and a market opportunity that wasn’t being filled by our existing offering,” she said.

The redevelopment of Randhurst reflects a number of retail trends under way for much of the last decade but accelerated by the recession.

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