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BOLINGBROOK, IL-It isn’t a major retail hub yet, but the village of Bolingbrook, long known for its warehouse-distribution growth, is well on its way. Last month major mall developer Forest City Enterprises broke ground on the 1.1 million-sf, open-air Bolingbrook Promenade. The center will boast the Chicago-area’s second Ikea as an anchor, and more major tenants are sure to follow, industry observers say.

“Even a retailer as large as Ikea doesn’t make a retail hub,” Leslie Mader, a retail specialist at Chicago-based Northern Realty Group, tells GlobeSt.Retail. “But once you get a big, solid anchor like Ikea, it’s a hub in the making.”

The Bolingbrook Ikea, which will be 310,000 sf with parking for 1,300 cars off Interstate-355, is slated for completion in time for the 2005 Christmas shopping season. It’s the signature store in the two-phase development. Phase I will include about 136,000 sf retail besides Ikea, “home décor and hard goods tenants,” according to Cleveland-based Forest City. Phase II, a 633,000-sf “lifestyle marketplace” at I-355 south of Boughton Road, will include a department store, according to the developer, with completion planned for the spring of 2006.

“It will be a large, regional retail destination, once the north and south portions are linked, creating a center of town and a sense of place,” says Brian Ratner, president, East Coast development, Forest City.

According to officials in the village of Bolingbrook, no direct economic incentives were involved in the Bolingbrook Promenade deal, but the village is doing about $2.7 million worth of infrastructure improvements in the area, such as road widening.

Under Mayor Roger Claar, who has been in office 18 years, Bolingbrook has aggressively sought industrial development to exploit its position along I-55, a major north-south artery that connects the village directly to Chicago, and also links it to I-80, an east-west route that spans the nation. Bolingbrook’s current industrial base is about 23.2 million sf, outsizing nearby towns such as Romeoville (12 million sf), Woodridge (6.7 million sf) and Lemont (3.8 million sf) (figures according to those respective villages).

Less noticed has been Bolingbrook’s retail growth. Total retail space has grown at a steady clip in recent years. In 1999, the village was home to 2.8 million sf of retail; as of 2003 (the village’s latest available data), that total was 4.5 million sf. “Retailers have been coming here for some time now,” says Terri Wintermute, assistant to the mayor for economic development, Bolingbrook. “Retailers select sites based on rooftops, and we’re getting more rooftops. About 66,000 people live here, in about 21,000 dwellings. That’s almost twice what it was in 1986.”

Bolingbrook also benefits from its location in northern Will County (currently one of the fastest-growing counties in Illinois) and immediately south of DuPage County’s large suburban population. Census Bureau figures (compiled and analyzed by the village) show a population of about 222,000 within five miles of the major village intersection of Weber and Boughton. Moreover, this population is well-to-do, with 2002 average household incomes of nearly $97,000.

Even before Ikea announced its plans to build there, the village attracted a wide variety of big boxes (Best Buy, Home Depot, Borders) and a large assortment of smaller retailers. “It’s a diverse group,” notes Wintermute.

Ikea, for its part, picked the Bolingbrook site for a number of reasons, only some of which involved the intrinsic merits of the place. Until recently, the Swedish retailer sought unsuccessfully to build a second Chicago-area store in the city itself.

“It was a tall order, finding 15 to 20 acres of land in the city, near an expressway,” Joseph Roth, director of expansion and public affairs for Ikea, tells GlobeSt.Retail. “So eventually, we had to turn our attention to other suburban locations.”

Ikea is currently in a major expansion mode in the United States, looking to roll out five new stores a year across the country. Its Schaumburg, IL, store, which opened in 1998, has proved wildly popular. Without releasing specific revenue numbers, Roth says it is one of its five most successful stores out of its 21 in the country. He says the company wants to replicate that success in another part of the Chicago market—close, but not too close to Schaumburg, which is a northwest suburb, and a bone fide retail mecca with about 9.4 million sf of retail (second in the Chicago area only after Chicago itself), including the 2.5-million-sf Woodfield Mall.

“At minimum, a new store has to be 30 to 40 miles away from an existing one, or 30 to 40 minutes’ drive,” says Roth. “The latter is the case with the Ikea in Bolingbrook. It’s a good location to draw shoppers from parts of DuPage County, all the southwest suburbs and the South Side of the city—people who might have been put off by the prospect of driving to the northwest suburbs very often.”

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