CRYSTAL LAKE – More than 45 years have passed since the Crystal Lake Plaza shopping center has undergone this extensive of a rebuilding project.
The difference is that, unlike the tornado of 1965, this planned overhaul is welcome. The result is a dynamic, new look with attention to energy efficiency and access. Owners Madison Corporate Group Inc. of Glen Ellyn also recently completed a renovation of the rear parking lot which added 75 spaces and a privacy fence along Jackman Drive.
“I think it took us from being the ugliest building in Crystal Lake to being one of the nicest,” said Bob Nelson, co-owner of Nelson’s Jewelry, which occupied a 12-by-20-foot space 50 years ago and subsequently has expanded to 3,600 square feet.
“Over the years that we’ve been here, they did some different remodeling by adding minor stuff. A new facade was placed over the old facade. This time they took all of that off and created a more contemporary look with canvas awnings and light poles that you see along Route 14.
“They did a really nice job, including the brick sidewalk,” Nelson continued. “Customers come in and say ‘Wow. That is really cool.’ It’s not very often that customers have complimented the Plaza on anything.”
Tom Eilers Jr., Madison’s vice president of development, said plans have “been in the works for years,” but the development company was unable to secure city approval of its plans until 2010 – ironically right in the midst of the real estate crash. Eilers said Madison Corporate Group met with the city over an eight-month period, but was unable to secure little more than fee waivers. It was relegated to moving forward alone.
“We received nowhere near what they give car dealerships. I think they have an aversion to helping out a developer vs. an individual retailer,” Eilers said.
“They seem to pick and choose what they want to do and when they want to do it.”
Eilers said private/public partnerships can be a boon for future sales tax revenues, with minimal risk to the taxpayers. He cited a seamless incentive agreement with the village of Glen Ellyn, which resulted in the construction of a highly productive Trader Joe’s moving to Roosevelt Road.
James L. Richter II, assistant director of economic development for Crystal Lake, said the city expedited the permit review process. However, the project failed to meet the criteria needed for tax breaks or other incentives. That does not mean their efforts are not appreciated.
“We are so glad that they made that investment and we’re lucky to have them here,” Richter said.
Eilers credited company’s solid financial profile for enabling it to secure private funding and work began in fall – shortly after heavy rains prompted a partial roof collapse at Joseph’s Marketplace. Since that time, the company has invested between $1.5 million and $2 million into structural and facade improvements in an effort to mirror Glencoe’s downtown streetscape. It worked with PPK Architects of Glen Ellyn to achieve just the right look.
“We looked at lot of different pavers. These are actual clay pavers, not mixed concrete. They should hold up over time,” Eilers said. “We also like the awning look, the graphic look. We wanted to make it look fresh. What tenants want now is an individual appearance, not just one long strip.”
So far, the risk is paying off. The Plaza, which boasts a 170,000-square-foot main center and 15,000 to 20,000 square feet of outlot space, is 70 percent leased. In many cases, Eilers said, the Plaza was a victim of its own success. A martiall arts studio and a hobby shop both moved to larger spaces. The 12,000-square-foot space formerly occupied by Thomasville Furniture, next to the new One Buffet, was supposed to house a climbing wall. But it’s owners could not secure the necessary financing.
But he said some “exciting announcements” are in the offing.
“We felt we wanted to make a statement, reinvest in the property and stick with it,” Eilers said. “It was not an easy decision. We talked to our peers in the industry. But we wanted to be positioned well when the economy is turning around. ... It’s very encouraging with all of the leasing calls we’re getting in.”
For information, visit www.madisoncorporategroup.com.