Demolition of eyesore Oak Creek Plaza shopping center in Mundelein is milestone in village history
A long-awaited resolution to what for years has been Mundelein's biggest development challenge is underway.
Demolition of the former Oak Creek Plaza shopping center on Route 60 just east of Route 45 to make way for 222 townhouses began a week ago, shortly after national homebuilder D.R. Horton closed on the 33-acre property.
A ceremonial groundbreaking Thursday was a figurative sigh of relief that change finally is coming to the village's largest and most visible eyesore.
The once bustling shopping center was built in the early 1980s but largely has been vacant since Menards closed in 2012. In its place will be 222 townhouses in 45 buildings and a 10-acre public park along Oak Creek, to be the first in the village with a dog park.
"This is amazing. Ten years ago, Menards was right here," said Mayor Steve Lentz, speaking near what's left of the former anchor store.
"That began a 10-yearlong journey to where we are today. It truly became a ghost town," he added. "It was our largest challenge as a community."
Initially, a Walmart supercenter was in the picture but didn't materialize. Ownership of the center went into foreclosure and the sore thumb property languished.
In 2017, the village hired the Urban Land Institute-Chicago to assess opportunities for the Route 60 corridor.
The panel found the site was desirable for new residential development because of its proximity to other neighborhoods; opportunity to create a "scenic natural retreat" along Oak Creek, which flows through the property; and, its location in the prestigious Adlai E. Stevenson High School district.
After another study showed a drop in demand for commercial space, trustees chose a residential use as the preferred alternative.
Texas-based D.R. Horton in 2019 completed the Lake Ridge Townhomes, which had been started by another developer. The site is about a half mile northwest of Oak Creek Plaza at Route 45 and Hickory Street.
The homebuilder in 2020 acquired the 220,000-square-foot shopping center and property under contract.
That transaction began "two years of very collaborative effort," with the village, said Cole Tyrell, D.R. Horton's division president. In April 2021, the village designated a 133-acre area including the site as a special financing district.
This past March, the village board approved a redevelopment agreement with D.R. Horton for the site.
The agreement includes incentives of up to $5.87 million from the special financing district for land acquisition, demolition and other costs.
Lentz at the time described the adoption of the agreement as a "very historic evening," in the life of the village.
All involved are ready to go.
"D.R. Horton is incredibly excited to get this project underway," said Derrick Hoffman, land manager for the company.
Townes at Oak Creek will include a landscaped common space with a community fireplace and walking paths. New roads, including a new access point from Route 45 rather than Route 60, are planned.
Outlots along Route 60 are separately owned. Current uses, including Pita Inn, Associated Bank, Culver's, Popeye's and an auto wash will remain. X-Factor Trampoline Park is independently owned and some parking may be relocated.
Officials said the 10-acre park could become a destination as a retreat or lunch spot for residents, visitors or guests at the nearby Double Tree hotel.
The park will have public parking, a playground and a dog park about the size of a high school football field.
"That was in the village's survey results and our survey results," said Ron Salski, executive director of the Mundelein Park and Recreation District. "It's a perfect spot."
Tyrell said the company hopes to start building model homes in August with open houses to follow in fall.