Retail Traffic

MALL WALK: Block 37

When I was young and growing up in the Chicago suburbs, State Street was indisputably “The Great Street.” The elegant Marshall Fields & Co. was the place to shop and spend the day. Women in white gloves and hats sipped tea there. One dressed for the occasion.

But like many downtowns, the glamour faded. Upscale shops moved elsewhere; in this case north to Michigan Avenue — otherwise known as The Magnificent Mile — and, of course deeper into the suburbs. Even Fields (acquired this year from Target by May Co., which was swallowed up by Federated), conceded the growing popularity of Michigan Avenue by building a second big store there in Water Tower Place. Bloomingdale's, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom followed.

But with residents now clamoring to live in parts of the core city where they previously feared to tread, an urban renaissance is under way. More than 20,000 new residential units have gone up in the greater downtown area since 2000, according to Appraisal Research Counselors, a Chicago consultant.

Moreover, the new Millennium Park with its Frank Gehry bandshell and avant garde public art (left, bottom) has residents and tourists flocking downtown in the evening and on weekends, when traffic used to be scarce. On a recent Sunday visit back home, downtown was hopping. It's a 24/7 neighborhood now.

So it's no surprise that more retail is headed that way. One of the biggest projects is 108 North State Street, a mixed-used development (rendering at top) across from Fields and not far from Millennium Park. It's being built on a one-square-block property (left, center: the area in its heydey) that sat empty for 15 years. In the winter, it was iced over and used as a skating rink. Developers ignored it.

Now, the Mills Corp. plans 400,000 square feet of retail, entertainment and dining options at the mixed-used site, identified by the city as Block 37. The mall is scheduled to open in 2007. Already, Sisley, Boggi Milano, Banana Republic, Rosa Mexicano and the David Barton Gym and Stephen Foster, creator of Lucky Strike bowling alley and nightclub in Hollywood, have signed on. Foster will launch an as yet unidentified new entertainment concept there.

Chicago retail is in flux. Marshall Fields changed hands twice in a year after Federated bought May. While Federated is keeping the Fields' name (it had better if it doesn't want a riot), there's concern it will become more like Macy's — perhaps a little less upscale: More racks; less open space. Federated didn't return phone calls.

The store will still sell Fields' popular Frango mints, now made in Indiana. But whatever Federated decides, Fields won't be Fields anymore. That matters to me and a lot of loyalists. I'm a Fields alumnus, having worked at the Skokie, Ill., store in Old Orchard, long before Westfield slapped its name on it; a name, by the way, that is universally rejected.

Meanwhille, what will become of the the Lord & Taylor, also at Water Tower Place? Does May need two department stores right next to each other? What's more, the shrinking Lord & Taylor chain is reportedly up for sale. And Bloomingdale's is one block away, giving Federated a lock on retail traffic.

So, maybe, you can't go home again. Or, if you do, be prepared for changes.


Location: Chicago

Size: 400,000 square feet of retail and entertainment space.

Construction Begins: By year's end.

Developer: The Mills Corp.

Tenants to Include: Banana Republic, Sisley, Boggi Milano, David Barton Gym and a new entertainment concept by the founder of Lucky Strike Lanes, Rosa Mexicano.

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