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CHICAGO-An agreement between the city and Mid-America Asset Management, overseeing the $110-million redevelopment of the Brickyard Mall at Diversey and Narragansett avenues, has been signed, more than 100 citizens were told Thursday night. Alderman William J.P. Banks says it is “the largest redevelopment of a commercial structure anywhere in America.”

At a Galewood-Montclare Community Organization meeting two blocks west of the 880,000-sf mall, which is 80% vacant, Mid-America Asset Management partner Michael George promises a new mall that will be smaller, yet 100% occupied by major retailers, when it reopens in late 2004.

“It’s designed to be a first-class, modern shopping center for first-class, modern merchants,” George says. “We think it’ll be recognized as the finest redevelopment in the country.”

The four new anchors in a proposed 545,000-sf center will include a Jewel/Osco, which already has a store there and will continue to have a presence at the Brickyard site through construction. Target also is expected to sign a lease shortly, George indicates, along with a home improvement company and national family apparel chain.

Although tax increment financing is being used, the redevelopment is expected to leave plenty of money left over for projects in the area around the new open-air community center, including Riis Park, across Narragansett Avenue from the site.

The maximum project budget is $60.73 million, says TIF consultant Myron Louik, principal of Louik/Schneider & Associates, the larger items being demolition, site preparation, environmental remediation and relocation costs. However, George says the current owner of the mall, New York-based Whitehall Street Real Estate LP IX, expects to contribute more than $80 million to the redevelopment effort. That means it would need $27.5 million in TIF money, less than half the budget.

Mid-America Asset Management became involved with Brickyard Mall two years ago, when it won an assignment to find a replacement for Kmart after the financially struggling retailer closed its store there. Shortly after that, Montgomery Ward’s went into bankruptcy and JCPenney pulled out of the center, George recalls. “Those things are happening across the country, in shopping centers everywhere,” George says. However, losing three of its four anchors “created an opportunity for dramatic redevelopment,” he adds.

Shoppers question, though, whether the same fate of dying retailers awaits the new Brickyard, which will have less square footage. “We think we’ll have a great assortment of stores,” says George, adding 75 in-line stores are included in the plans. “When you have a 50-acre site available to modern retailers in the city, they’re very, very interested.”

As for whether the shopping center can survive with less space, George notes only 20% of the existing mall—about 175,000 sf—is occupied. “We expect to open 100% occupied,” George adds.

In its current state, the mall’s market value is $60.8 million, according to the Cook County Assessor’s office.

Some smaller tenants will come from the existing mall, which will be razed. “We’re taking some of the stores from the mall that have been successful and incorporating them in the mall,” George says.

With demolition set to begin early next year, and TIF designation expected to follow after a Jan. 14 plan commission hearing, the only question remaining may be the new shopping center’s name. George says plans have been to drop the “mall” and call the open-air center “The Brickyard.”

However, the mall has a stigma of poor security as well as struggling retailers, shoppers say. In addition, the name stems from the site being a former quarry, filled largely with debris from the construction of the Eisenhower Expressway.

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