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Thursday, June 16, 2011 05:52 am

White Oaks renovation planned to attract more people and revenue

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New lighting and seating area will give the food court at White Oaks Mall a fresh look.
COURTESY SIMON PROPERTIES

A multimillion-dollar renovation is planned for White Oaks Mall beginning as early as late summer. Some say it could mean a boost in sales and property tax for the city of Springfield.

“There is absolutely no question that this mall has been an economic engine since the day it opened,” said Mayor Michael Houston at a June 6 unveiling of a plan from developers and mall owners Simon Properties to renovate White Oaks Mall and add a St. John’s Hospital Third Age Living Center for seniors.

“And it’s not just an economic engine for the people of Springfield. It brings people in from all over the central Illinois area.”

The 12-month project will be the first major renovation since 1993. It includes modernizing the facility with warm colors, textures, and wood and stone for a “warmer, softer, welcoming environment,” says Maureen Bluhm, general manager at White Oaks Mall.

Among some of the new changes are hands-free doors, a family restroom on the lower level and soft seating in the food court and throughout the mall.

“Last year, 23 percent of the city’s budget came from our one penny share of the state sales tax,” says Houston. “Sales tax is something that is extremely important to the citizens of Springfield.”

Ward 7 Alderman Joe McMenamin is excited about the new changes to the mall, which he says represent “confidence in the regional retail market” by Simon Properties.

Gary Plummer of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce sees the coming changes as bringing a new kind of feeling into the mall.

“I think it refreshes it in the public’s perspective and it gives people a reason to come back,” says Plummer.

He says that White Oaks Mall is probably the largest single tax and property tax driver in the community. But Office of Budget and Management director William McCarty says it is hard to track sales tax revenues.

Simon Properties spokesman Lee Morris says the company decided to renovate 16 key properties, including White Oaks, that the company identified as needing changes. Simon Properties will spend $500 million overall for renovations. The group opened White Oaks Mall in 1977 and has locations in 41 states.

Morris declined to disclose the dollar amount of the Springfield renovations but says it is a multimillion-dollar project.

“Our sales have been increasing every year and I think this will do even more for us because it’s going to be a bigger attraction than it was before,” says Brad Leezer, co-founder and co-owner of Gizzy Lu, a pet products store on the upper level of the mall.

“I’m excited about it, I think it’s going to be great for the community, great for the mall,” says Leezer. “I think it should be good for our business and everyone else’s.”

Leezer sees the changes making the mall more of a “central location in Illinois” and expects to draw more visitors from neighboring towns.

Auntie Anne’s Pretzels manager Dan Honig says, “We’re excited about the renovations and it’ll bring more attention to this center for us.”

“It’ll definitely bring more families to the mall,” he says. He says they will stay longer because of more comfortable seating and a more updated look.

“Whenever a store remodels, it always increases our business. So for the mall to remodel, I’m sure it will increase the traffic altogether.”

Contact Holly Dillemuth at hdillemuth@illinoistimes.com.

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