Heavy equipment has been at work for a while, but the various parties that played a role in bringing the $200 million Mellody Farm project to Vernon Hills gathered Friday for the ceremonial start of construction.
The mix of high-end apartments and a 272,242-square-foot shopping center at Milwaukee Avenue (Route 21) and Townline Road (Route 60) is promised to have a different feel and selections from the village's already expansive commercial offerings.
Mellody Farm was 18 months in the making and ultimately involved a $20 million village incentive, to be repaid from proceeds generated from the tax increment financing district designated by the village.
In a TIF district, the increase in property taxes that would have gone to various taxing agencies as a result of higher property value instead are put in a special fund to pay for various expenses. In this case, it will include roadwork and bond payments.
"It was a true public/private partnership where everybody came to the table to make this a reality," said Matt Hendy, vice president and regional officer for Regency Centers. "Consumers will get a level of offerings and an experience that doesn't exist," in Lake County, he added.
Mayor Roger Byrne welcomed the development as a "great addition to the whole area." Extensive road improvements at the heavily traveled intersection will be a major public benefit, he added.
The Florida-based company owns, operates and develops shopping centers across the country and specializes in those anchored by grocery stores. Signed tenants in Vernon Hills are Whole Foods, Nordstrom Rack, HomeGoods, Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) and Cafe Zupas.
Regency acquired the 50-acre site from the Cuneo Trust, and will sell a portion to Focus Acquisitions LLC to build 260 luxury apartments.
The center's name is a nod to the former Hawthorn Mellody farm operated by the Cuneo family, which once owned vast tracts of property in the area, including the site of Hawthorn Mall and several residential areas.
This high-profile corner was farmed for years, but the cost of the property stymied development and was among the reasons Regency said the project wouldn't work without village assistance.
"This is by far the last corner of this caliber in the county that's undeveloped," said Aaron Lawlor, Lake County Board chairman whose district includes Vernon Hills. "We wanted to see something that was the right project and the right partner," Lawlor added.
Lake County provides sewer and water service to the area and had to remove a covenant prohibiting residential development. As such, it commissioned a separate financial analysis to make sure the $20 million was needed, said County Administrator Barry Burton.
An opening is planned for fall 2018. Road improvements are expected to begin this summer and take two construction seasons to complete.