Competition, online shopping among challenges facing Buffalo Grove’s new effort to invigorate Lake Cook Road

A sign advertising leasing opportunities sits near the Chase Plaza shopping center at Lake Cook and Arlington Heights roads in Buffalo Grove. The center is a big part of village officials’ new plan to redevelop the Lake Cook Road Corridor. (Brian O’Mahoney / Pioneer Press)

As Buffalo Grove officials move forward with their plan to transform the Lake Cook Road Corridor, questions remain on whether developers will step up during a turbulent time for retailers.

Buffalo Grove Village Manager Dane Bragg said officials have begun acting on the new redevelopment strategy after village board members amended the village’s long-term comprehensive plan during a meeting earlier this spring.

The action came after nearly a year and a half of study by both officials and a private consulting firm, as well as several town-hall-style meetings with residents who shared their own ideas for the major commercial stretch in Buffalo Grove.

Village officials now are talking with a few developers who are interested in joining Buffalo Grove’s effort to invigorate Lake Cook Road, but much work to achieve that vision remains, including how to overcome increased competition from neighboring communities and consumers’ changing habits toward online shopping, according to officials and suburban property developers.

Often described as the "gateway to the village," the corridor includes swaths of dated and vacant commercial buildings, despite efforts in past years from Buffalo Grove officials to boost its economic potential.

The area encompasses more than 472 acres of land and more than one million square feet of commercial space, as well as the village’s building campus, the village-owned golf course and some residential neighborhoods.

The newest plans for the corridor include ideas to transform two aging strip malls — Chase Plaza on the west end of Lake Cook Road at Arlington Heights Road and Town Center on the east end at McHenry Road.

Despite hearing from a few developers who are interested in being a part of the plan to upgrade Lake Cook Road, officials have not yet received specific development proposals, Bragg said.

“We’ve had some developers who told us they liked the ideas, and they reached out directly to us,” Bragg said.

A main focus of the new redevelopment strategy is turning the two shopping centers on both ends of the corridor into so-called experiential lifestyle centers, where residents can live, shop, eat and play, village officials have said.

Chase Plaza, in particular, has dealt with a large vacancy for years after the former Dominick’s grocery store closed in 2014. Village officials have said they now want to try and turn that center into a marketplace featuring a mix of retail, restaurants and entertainment venues surrounded by green space.

On the east end of the corridor, officials have envisioned overhauling the Town Center strip mall with a pedestrian-friendly main street surrounded by sidewalk cafes and public plazas that could serve as gathering spots for the community — changes that were identified as top priorities by residents during officials’ study of the corridor, Bragg said.

While officials’ mixed-use ideas for both shopping centers would include retail and residential areas, they’re also trying to account for the challenges facing traditional retailers in the age of Amazon and the explosion of online shopping, Bragg said.

Big-box retailers especially might not be a major part of officials’ new redevelopment effort, he said.

“We’re much more focused on experiential and entertainment offerings, as retail is much different than it was even just five years ago,” Bragg said.

Officials, for example, are wanting to attract a new grocery store to Lake Cook Road, but the new addition more likely will be a “specialty grocer” desiring a smaller 30,000-square-foot space rather than a larger 65,000-square-foot building, he said.

Meanwhile, businesses like smaller craft breweries have shot up in popularity in recent years and increasingly demand visible storefront space, he said.

Studies also show shoppers who still enjoy making purchases at traditional brick-and-mortar stores do so for “the sensory experience” nowadays, Bragg said.

“It’s mostly apparel and home decor, where shoppers like to touch and feel what they are buying,” he said.

Despite the many ideas associated with the village’s new redevelopment effort, officials have made attempts in the past to transform Lake Cook Road into more of a village center, said Stuart Lenhoff, president and principal of Horizon Realty Services, a leasing and management firm in Buffalo Grove, which, he said, oversees about three million square feet of suburban retail space.

“It is very wise of Buffalo Grove to try to redevelop the corridor, and the village has always been proactive when it comes to development,” Lenhoff said. “But the village had a similar vision 20 to 25 years ago when the Buffalo Grove Town Center was built, and it didn’t turn out well. So, in some ways, they would be starting over again.”

Another challenge for the village is the increased competition coming from neighboring communities, such as Deerfield and Kildeer, which already have vibrant lifestyle centers that are home to an assortment of national retailers and restaurants, he said.

In nearby Vernon Hills, construction also is underway on a $200 million investment to create the Mellody Farms retail development, which will be anchored by a Whole Foods grocery store. The new center, featuring a mix of retail and housing, is expected to open later this year, Lenhoff said.

Despite the hurdles, if Buffalo Grove officials can attract a developer willing to remodel the existing movie theaters at the Town Center and find the right mix of new retail tenants and restaurants, some elements of the village’s plan can work, he said.

“With the right theme, they could create a place where people would want to visit on a nice evening for shopping, dinner and a movie, or maybe to watch an outdoor concert,” Lenhoff said, adding, “But all of this is tenant driven, and without tenants, it remains just a proposal or plan.”

Another major question for Buffalo Grove officials, as they start to move forward on the redevelopment effort, is how they plan to pay for many of the proposed ideas, which include the creation of a frontage road that would run behind properties north of Lake Cook Road.

Bragg said officials have not yet allocated any resources or decided how they would finance the different capital projects related to the improvements along Lake Cook Road.

Officials also are in the process of studying whether to renovate or replace buildings throughout Buffalo Grove’s municipal campus — a separate project involving a “multi-year investment strategy,” which officials should start discussing later this year, Bragg said.

While Buffalo Grove Trustee David Weidenfeld acknowledged officials will face challenges when trying to bring their ideas for Lake Cook Road to fruition, he said, the new proposals for the corridor reflect a snapshot in time that likely will evolve with the market.

“But having a vision we can offer to developers says if they take the opportunity to build here, the process will be a lot easier,” Weidenfeld said. “For developers, the shorter the distance from the day they begin a project to the day they open the doors, the better.”

Twitter @kcullotta

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