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CHICAGO-Arlington, VA-based Mills Corp. has beaten out three local entries to become master developer for 108 N. State St., formerly known as Block 37. The developer’s knack for avoiding a cookie-cutter pattern to its projects was a factor in beating three other finalists– local mall pioneer Klutznick Co., John Buck Co. and a joint venture involving retail REIT General Growth Properties, Inc. and Higgins Development Corp.

“They demonstrated to us a real sense of flexibility, experience and financial ability,” says department of planning and development spokesman Pete Scales tells GlobeSt.com. “What (commissioner Alicia Mazur Berg) and the selection committee was impressed with was their creativity.”

Mills Corp. had entered the contest for master developer status with local multifamily residential developer MCL Cos. Mills, which has developed 18 million sf of retail property, will go it alone for now, Scales says. However, London-based Harrod’s is likely to be involved in discussions, he adds.

“Retail is going to drive this thing,” Scales tells GlobeSt.com. “Alicia and the committee decided retail was the deciding force, and we’ll focus on that first.”

A soft multifamily market makes that element of the project less of a priority.

Mills Corp. is not a complete stranger in the market, having built 1.7-million-sf Gurnee Mills in that far north suburb. However, that, as well as other developments probably offer little glimpse into the eventual plans for the long-vacant corner on State between Washington and Randolph streets.

“No current project of theirs looks like an old project,” Scales explains. “It’s a unique site and a unique city that it’s in. They understand that, and that’s something we were looking at. Mills got it. They were right on top of it.”

The department was on top of a self-imposed deadline of “early summer,” announcing Mills Corp.’s selection on the summer solstice. However, development of a site that has been plagued with more than one false start is not going to be fast-tracked. “It’ll be some time,” Scales says. “I think we’ve learned our past lessons by not putting time frames on ourselves.”

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