Hawthorn Mall in Vernon Hills is closing temporarily because of COVID-19, but planning for big changes inside and out continues.
The village board on Monday agreed to hire Kane, McKenna & Associates of Chicago to proceed with a study to see if the mall property north and west of Townline Drive (Route 60) and Milwaukee Avenue (Route 21) meets legal requirements to be designated a tax increment financing district.
A TIF district is an economic development incentive in which property tax disbursements are frozen, usually for 23 years. Any additional tax revenue generated by rising property values during that time go into a special fund to pay for improvements within the district.
The study is considered groundwork for a potential huge redevelopment of the property by mall owner Dallas-based Centennial Real Estate.
Last summer, Centennial outlined for village leaders plans to transform the aging Hawthorn Mall, a 1.3 million-square-foot shopping center built in the 1970s.
While there have been other projects, including a $50 million redevelopment by the former owner in 2015, Centennial considers Hawthorn a long-term asset and has outlined concepts for a $200 million investment.
As a sign of good faith, Centennial last Thanksgiving unveiled a $6.2 million overhaul of the two-level interior center court.
But with the pitch last summer came a request by Centennial for the village to create a TIF district as a way to recapture some of their development costs.
The village last fall hired Kane McKenna to do a preliminary financial and tax revenue analysis of the mall proposal to determine the "reasonableness" of the request, according to Village Manager Mark Fleischhauer.
That review, which will help define the size and scope of the district, is being finalized.
"I think you'll see the Kane McKenna did a very, very good job of narrowing down the focus," Fleischhauer told village trustees.
"What we voted on was just another step in the process," Trustee Jim Schultz said Wednesday. "We're a long way from establishing a TIF -- if it's found to be a viable option."
Fleischhauer said the village has been working with architects on the "development side of things" for the mall with the details of the financial aspects coming next.
Whether the coronavirus pandemic will delay or change Centennial's plans is unknown. The company through a spokesman said the project is moving forward and hopes to provide updates in the near future but declined to comment further.