HUNTLEY – In the years following Huntley’s exponential population growth, residents have questioned why a premium outlet mall located off a prominent entrance into McHenry County hasn’t grown with the village.
A potential economic driver built in 1994, the Huntley Outlet Center, roughly houses 20 stores, including high-end brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Ann Taylor, Gap and Eddie Bauer, but remains 50 percent vacant despite its position on the southeast corner of Route 47 and Interstate 90.
Signs along the sidewalks throughout the outdoor outlet mall warn customers of uneven pavement. Potholes scatter the parking lot, as the aging 279,000-square-foot property enters its 21st year in operation.
With a full interchange at Route 47 and I-90 opening Huntley to traffic from both Chicago and Rockford for the first time, the mall has drawn interest this summer from numerous people interested in its vitality.
But the mall’s future as an area commercial center remains as hazy as its present.
Owner Simon Property Group, an Indianapolis-based company operating hundreds of malls across the country, has listed the Huntley Outlet Center for sale with international real estate services firm Cushman and Wakefield, disclosing few details about the decision.
“It is our longstanding corporate policy not to comment on potential sales or acquisitions, so there is nothing to say except we are focused on managing and leasing Huntley Premium Outlets as we always have been,” said Les Morris, Simon Property Group director of corporate public relations.
Huntley officials, meanwhile, spent $9,500 earlier this summer to have consultants study potential redevelopment options for the property.
The focus on the Huntley outlet mall comes when outlet centers are seeing renewed interest from consumers. Total sales for the outlet industry topped $45.6 billion in 2015, an 8.57 percent increase from the $42 billion in sales in 2013, the International Council of Shopping Centers reported earlier this year.
Outlet owners have completed 12 expansions this year, including two major ones by Simon Property in suburban Aurora and San Francisco, according to council figures.
Simon’s expansion at Chicago Premium Outlets in Aurora added 250,000 square feet of outdoor shopping space, including 30 new and expanded stores. The Aurora mall is one of the 10 largest outlet malls in the country, industry figures show.
Simon hired a new Chicago area manager earlier this summer who oversaw the completion of the Aurora expansion.
Also responsible for Huntley, Area Manager Phil Whitsel said his company currently doesn’t have redevelopment plans for the Huntley mall.
The immediate plan for the center is to find non-traditional outlet retailers that could spark traffic flow into the Huntley Outlet Center and meet consumer demands within the local community, he said.
“The challenge is continuing to find some of those unique tenants that will round the mall into a community-orientated center,” Whitsel said. “We are trying to find a great way to modify what Huntley provides, so that it does cater to the local community.”
In the past, village officials have tried to contact Simon Property about redevelopment options at the outlet mall without much success. In June, trustees approved a $9,500 agreement with real estate research firm Gruen Gruen + Associates to assess potential options for the mall.
The agreement could determine what’s financially viable for an aging outlet mall situated along a commercial corridor that has seen increased activity since the $61 million full interchange opened to traffic two years ago, said Village Manager Dave Johnson.
Along with the additions of small-to-midsize manufacturers in business parks near the interchange, the maker of Weber Grills, Weber – Stephen Products, earlier this year opened its new 750,120-square-foot global distribution center adjacent to the Huntley Outlet Center.
With all the activity, the village sees a mixture of uses, including retailers, restaurants, a hotel or motel and even an industrial area, as potential redevelopment options for the outlet mall, Johnson said.
The work with the consultants could determine what’s realistic for the area, he said. The options eventually could be presented to Simon Property.
Village officials are expecting to see a draft report from Gruen Gruen + Associates within the coming days.
“The outlet mall is a priority for us because it’s at the doorstep of our community,” Johnson said. “With the investment we’ve made in the interchange, we would like to see a little more life out there.”