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Group aims to revitalize Charlestowne Mall

Associate Joel Miller (left) broker Neil JohnsSperry Van Ness/Landmark Commercial Real Estate LLC stnear merry-go-round Charlestowne Mall. | Paul Sullivan~For

Associate Joel Miller (left) and broker Neil Johnson of Sperry Van Ness/Landmark Commercial Real Estate LLC stand near the merry-go-round at the Charlestowne Mall. | Paul Sullivan~For Sun-Times Media

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Sperry Van Ness Landmark Commercial Real Estate LLC

21 N. Third St., Suite 200

Geneva, IL 60134

Broker: Neil Johnson


Call: 630-938-4950

Updated: November 3, 2011 11:29AM

ST. CHARLES — It’s no secret the Charlestowne Mall has been another victim of the Great Recession.

The 1 million-square-foot, two-story mall has numerous empty storefronts among the still-open anchor stores of Kohl’s, Von Maur, Carson’s and Classic Cinema, where kids throng to see the latest and final Harry Potter movie. In the food court, three food vendors remain to entice shoppers with free samples. Laughing children and smiling parents still ride the colorful and iconic carousel, installed in 1991 when the mall opened.

In fall 2010, a group of California-based private investors bought the distressed bank-owned property for an undisclosed amount. Recently, the investors retained broker Neil Johnson to recruit tenants. Johnson owns the local office of Sperry Van Ness, a 160-office nationwide commercial real estate firm. A St. Charles native, Johnson has placed more than 500 commercial tenants since he first got his broker’s license 14 years ago.

In the mall leasing office, Johnson said, “Did you notice the parking lot resurfacing job? That had not been done for at least 10 years. That’s something that normally would be done every two to three years. The bank has owned this property for the last seven years. Bankers are good at some things, but they’re not very good landlords. You always have to work at recruiting and retaining tenants.”

The new owners, who own other mall properties, are committed to a long-term revitalization of the Charlestowne Mall, Johnson said. An indoor ice skating rink is in the planning stages now. “They have a representative out here once a month. There’s a big future in indoor malls. It’s always San Diego weather in here.”

Johnson said the mall has a lot to offer prospective tenants. “It offers strong demographics with a good mix of age and income, a lot of families and a large daytime population who work nearby. If you have to buy an anniversary gift and there’s a place five minutes away (from work), it’s an easy choice.”

With its current high vacancy rate, there’ll be some aggressive deals done for space, Johnson said. “Length of lease, work to be done — everything is negotiable in this business.”

Added Johnson’s associate Joel Miller, who likes to specialize in working with retailers, “Some of these spaces only need a new coat of paint. For a restaurant, we have empty spaces that already have a grill and a grease trap. Spaces that can be enlarged by knocking out walls on either side, or with access for outdoor seating. There’s a lot of flexibility. People who get in now can get the best deal on the best space.”

Working with local economic development officials and other brokers in the Sperry Van Ness organization, Johnson and Miller seek four different types of tenants for the mall: an anchor tenant to replace Sears, which closed its Charlestowne location in March; various types of restaurants; strong local retailers; and known brands of national and regional firms for interior mall spaces.

The carousel and the economy go round and round. And soon, at the newly revitalized Charlestowne Mall, ice skaters might also go round and round.

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