The more things change the more they stay the same.
Despite a year of revolving storefronts in Wilmette, the town’s business vacancy rate remained steady, according to an economic update delivered Tuesday, June 27, at a Village Board meeting.
In total, 16 Wilmette businesses have closed in the past year, while 15 have opened or are about to opening, according to the report.
Though the rate has not changed much in a year, it is well under its five-peak of around 12 percent in February 2021.
In the report, presented by Asst. Director of Community Development Lucas Sivertsen, the vacancy rate has fluctuated between 7.75 and 8.5 percent since last May.
Seven closures in Plaza del Lago, which is under new ownership and undergoing renovations, caused the rate to increase from its 2023 low point of 7.75 in April, the update says. Sivertsen said during the meeting that if not for Plaza del Lago vacancies the rate would be near the Village’s goal of 5 percent.
In response to the losses in the shopping center, which total four if you count relocating businesses, Plaza del Lago ownership group WS Development has yet to announce any new tenants but has pledged to revitalize the center with fresh businesses and site improvements. Renovations are underway with a projected completion date of early 2025, just before the firm expects new retail tenants to open.
WS Development wrote a letter to the Village in response to residents’ concerns about the departures.
“It is essential to us that the Wilmette community understands the love and loyalty they have for the property is exactly why we purchased it,” the letter reads in part, “and precisely why we will bring best in class local and national retailers to experience this exceptional place in an exceptional town.
“We ask for your patience while we finalize our plans and certainly while we undertake improvements to portions of the property and reopen the doors in 2025. The beginning of these projects is never the most fun part but what is to come from the newly restored Plaza del Lago is a place that we believe will make you all proud and that is what we strive to do every day.”
Trustee Kathy Dodd wondered if the local shops moving out of Plaza del Lago is an indication that national retailers will be moving in.
Sivertsen said that is a reasonable expectation; though, WS Development said its received interest form both local and national brands, while some plaza favorites, such as Convito Cafe, are planning to stay.
In the pre-meeting memo, Sivertsen expressed the Village’s confidence in WS Development, and Village Manager Mike Braiman reinforced those thoughts during the meeting.
“Be sure that we are in really good hands with a firm like WS Development investing in our community,” Braiman said. “They have an incredible track record. … We’ve had good shopping center owners, but this group is a step above.”
WS Development also owns Edens Plaza, a property the firm also pledged to revitalize.
The new vision for Edens Plaza is already taking shape, as the center’s flagship store, Wayfair, is under construction.
Sivertsen said WS Development remains hopeful Wayfair will open in April 2024.
The Village’s Appearance Review Commission recently OK’d updated brickwork to blend the plaza’s facade with Wayfair’s.
Downtown Wilmette has seen five new businesses within the past year — three of them (Chantilly Lace, Hanig’s Footwear, and Giggles and Giraffes/La Colonna) are transfers from Plaza del Lago.
Sivertesen also announced new ownership taking over the gas station at Ridge Road and Wilmette Avenue, and an art studio from Adam Siegel entering Linden Square.
Earlier in June, Wilmette trustees expressed support to spending a portion of the Village’s excess reserves on vacant commercial sites, such as Treasure Island on Ridge Road and Imperial Motors on Green Bay Road.
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