Redevelopment of Norridge site eyed


Norridge Mayor James Chmura said that commercial developers are negotiating the purchase of the former and visibly deteriorating AMC Norridge 10 Theater, 4520 N. Harlem Ave., and other surrounding parcels to create a mixed-use development with a new theater, retail and restaurants on the nearly 12-acre site.

"The deal is being negotiated, and I’m hearing that they are ironing out the details," Chmura said. "Like with any other development, there are many sides that are negotiating leases and deals, and there is a lot of horse trading going on."

Chmura said that he thinks that the purchase is close to being completed.

"When I was elected 3 years ago I wanted to really do something about that property because it is a prime piece of real estate," Chmura said. "It’s a good location, and if you can successfully merge a theater with retail and restaurants, then that would be a good revenue generator for the village."

"This is as close as I have ever seen a deal come to fruition on that property," Chmura said. "They are pretty close.

"We like what they have proposed, which is shopping, a theater and some retail. People can come in, see a show, eat something, shop for merchandise and bring sales tax revenue into the village."

The 56,822-square-foot theater closed in July of 2012 after a water main broke and flooded several auditoriums in a section of the theater that was part of the original theater building, according to village officials.

The property was being leased to AMC Theaters in 2012, but it operated as a Lowes Theater before AMC merged with that company in 2006. The theater also was a Sony Theater, and it opened as a Marks and Rosenfield Theater, village officials said.

The theater building sits on a parcel of land that also was occupied by the Maurice Lenell cookie factory and the Cookie Jar store that closed in 2008 and was demolished in 2013.

Chmura said that the developers said that the development would feature an AMC theater that would serve wine and beer, as well as restaurants and retailers. "AMC came to us and said that they would like to have a theater there," he said. "They said that half of the current property could be a theater and the other half of the property would be retail and restaurants," Chmura said.

"It looks to me that AMC is really expanding across the country and they want to open up a lot more theaters in order to cash in probably on the popularity of 3D movies," Chmura said. "They don’t want to demolish it but rehab it.

"If they would take like 2 to 3 months to rehab it, go through the village process and open up by Thanksgiving or Christmas, they could take advantage of the theater-going crowds. The ‘Star Wars’ movie over the holidays was really good to the theater operators and obviously to Disney."

"But when you are dealing with AMC you are dealing with the corporate headquarters, and they always take their time and everything needs to be approved four times," Chmura said.

"We got control about what the developers can and they can’t do," Chmura said. "Some requirements would be that they would have to pave that parking lot because it’s unbearable or have some lights on there because the property is in a planned unit development."

The property was listed for sale as a package of sites as the "Harlem Avenue Center" by real estate broker Transwestern, and includes the theater, the cookie factory lot and other vacant and currently leased retail spaces.

According to property information from Transwestern, about 32,000 vehicles pass by the properties per day on Harlem Avenue. "The property includes approximately 12 acres of land in the heart of the Harlem Avenue retail corridor. This urban, infill location is just sixteen miles northwest of Chicago’s central business district," according to Transwestern.

Transwestern said that the site is an "in-demand retail location and there are several national retailers in the area, however there are still many retailers that want to be located here but have not been able to find a suitable site."

A new development requires a tear-down or rehab, and it is very difficult to assemble large tracts of land in the area, according to Transwestern. The area has nearly 700,000 residents within a 5-mile radius.

The advertised package features a 52,976-square foot multi-tenant building that is leased by Jo-Ann, Go Bananas and American Mattress. A David’s Bridal shop has been closed. The torn-down cookie factory lot is 56,560 square feet, and the theater is 56,822 square feet and is in the B-5 Retail Business District PUD.

"The Norridge/Harwood Heights retail market includes nearly 1.7 million square feet of retail space, located primarily along Harlem Avenue. This retail market draws shoppers from throughout the northwest City of Chicago, as there are limited quality shopping options in this densely populated area. The market is anchored on the south end by Harlem Irving Plaza, a 700,000-square-foot regional mall that reportedly achieves sales in excess of $530 per square foot," according to Transwestern.

"I think the theater property would be worth like $12 million to $15 million," Chmura said. "During the recession before the bubble burst, the Lennell guy made a steal because he got like $12 million just for a sixth of that whole parcel."

When the theater closed in 2012, village officials said that AMC had in its contract that it had the option of walking away if something "catastrophic" happened, which it did after the building flooded. The theater and its parking lot have been deteriorating ever since.

Former Norridge mayor Ronald Oppedisano said in 2012 that while cost of the repairs was cited as the reason for closing the theater, the state of the movie industry and its competitive nature also may have played a factor.

"I remember when it opened in 1970 as a kid and how busy it was," Oppedisano said at the time. "It was a pretty big deal back then because they were state of the art, with giant screens, and they had seats that rocked back and forth.

"But as time went by and with the way that movies are today with the opening of these Muvicos, especially the one in Rosemont, where they cater to every need of the customer, it was hard for theaters like the Norridge to compete," Oppedisano said.

According to an article published in 1970 in Boxoffice magazine, a publication of the National Association of Theater Owners, the Norridge opened as a twin theater on a 10-acre parcel of land. It seated 1,200 people and 900 people in the two auditoriums, and there was parking for 932 cars, according to the article.

The first movies that were screened there were "Paint Your Wagon" starring Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood and "A Boy Named Charlie Brown," according to an ad that ran in local newspapers at the time.

The original building featured sloping white masonry walls that were capped at each end and at the entrance with a mansard roof made of metal siding, according to the article. The lobby had white walls with cedar panels, blue and green carpeting and a 14-foot-diameter chandelier, the article said.

Two additional auditoriums were added to the original building in the late 1970s, and six more were added in the second building over time.

Oppedisano said that there were plans to create a large retail development anchored by a Costco store. He said that the closing of the Maurice Lenell cookie factory and the Cookie Jar store in 2008 was to be a part of the expansion along with the theater, but that Costco instead built a store on the former Kiddieland site in Melrose Park.

Developers are negotiating the purchase of the former and visibly deteriorating AMC Norridge 10 Theater, 4520 N. Harlem Ave., and other surrounding parcels to create a mixed-use development with a new theater, retail and restaurants on the 12-acre site, according to Norridge Mayor James Chmura.
(Photos by Cyryl Jakubowski)