The owner of Little Village Discount Mall, where vendors have been threatened with eviction, said Monday many of them can remain and the property will undergo a major renovation.
Novak Development said there are no plans to replace vendors with big-box retailers as many in the community feared. Large tenants on the property, such as Walgreens and La Baguette Bakery, will remain, said Jake Paschen, executive vice president of Novak Development.
Also staying is an Esperanza health center, Paschen said.
“We have about 70,000 square feet of vendor space and we will end up with 40,000 square feet,” he said. Paschen said the reduction is due to an inability to reach terms with one of two tenants who control the vendor space.
The mall has had about 100 vendors. Paschen declined to estimate how many may have to vacate the property.
He said his firm was unwilling to take over that operation and directly lease space to small merchants on a short-term basis. “That’s not our business. We don’t know how to operate that type of discount mall,” he said.
The fate of the mall has been a concern in the neighborhood since late 2019 when Novak, a company known for properties anchored by large retailers such as Target or Kohl’s, acquired the site at 3115 W. 26th St. In March 2020, company President John Novak told the Chicago Sun-Times the assortment of individual sellers “was not the best use of the property.”
Paschen said the company has negotiated a new lease with businessman Kyunhee Park, who has operated part of the discount mall since it opened in 1991. Park could not be reached for comment.
The company’s plans will be discussed Thursday at a private meeting with Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) and city officials, Paschen said. Sigcho-Lopez had raised the possibility of the city forcibly acquiring the mall to maintain its unique role in the Mexican community, something that’s also made it a tourist attraction.
“The community should be satisfied” with the new plans, Paschen said. “They will be able to shop at a vastly improved shopping center. That property has been severely neglected.”
He said improvements will cost “in the tens of millions” of dollars and include new facades, roofs, lighting and a surface parking lot with more landscaping and a welcoming archway. The property is next to the landmark “Bienvenidos a Little Village” arch over 26th Street.
Work will start in the spring and last about a year and a half, Paschen said.
Novak said in a news release that the lease with Park runs 10 years, with three five-year options.
Paschen said he did not know how many vendors Park will accommodate going forward or what the rental terms will be.
Novak said the company was unable to share plans for the property before Monday because of negotiations with the two leaseholders who control the vendor spaces.
The overall site holds about 124,000 square feet, according to a listing with Mid-America Real Estate Group that offered it for new retail tenants.
Marta Torres, manager of the side of the mall not leased by Park, was “shocked” to hear Park had signed another lease. Torres, who has worked at the mall since it opened, knew her boss was in negotiations with Novak but was struggling to come to agreement.
“The problem is that they’re trying to charge a lot in rent,” she said.
Now, she wonders what Park’s decision to re-sign means for the vendors she works with. “We’ll wait to see what will happen with Novak on Thursday,” she said, referring to the meeting planned with Sigcho-Lopez.
Sources at the mall have said they feared Park also had signed for side of the mall run by Torres’ boss, effectively kicking those vendors out. The switch would leave the half of the building that Park now occupies, which is more desirable for its layout, open for the kind of big-box retailer Novak had hinted at after acquiring the site.
Sigcho-Lopez expressed some concern.
“It’s a step in the right direction to hear they’re interested in a lease for the small vendors, but we want to make sure it’s extended to all the vendors, “ he said.
“They can’t say they’re working with the small vendors when in reality they’re only working with half of them. On Thursday, we hope to hear good news.”
Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South Side and West Side.