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What’s Old Is New Again – The Wicker Park Commons Experience

In January of 2012, Mid-America Real Estate Corporation was engaged by local developer Centrum Partners and their New York Partner, Angelo, Gordon & Co., to help reposition a unique 315,000 SF mixed-use neighborhood center, The West Town Center, in order to increase NOI through new long-term leases and terminating existing ones where appropriate. The location at the intersection of Milwaukee and Ashland Avenues, considered to be within the booming Wicker Park neighborhood in Chicago, has tremendous exposure, an uncommon abundance of surface parking stalls and is at a heavily trafficked public transportation rail and bus hub. Coupled with a gentrified market with outstanding density, where’s the challenge?

Rewind as far back as the late 1800’s: Wicker Park developed as the need for housing arose for a Northern European population following the Chicago Fire.  Increasingly throughout the next several decades Wicker Park and the greater West Town became one of the outstanding Polish-American neighborhoods of the United States.  Like many areas of Chicago during the mid-late 20th century though, West Town experienced a decline in population density and urban decay, in desperate need of renewal.  

The West Town market began gentrifying in the late 90’s and momentum increased in the early 2000’s. Today the neighborhood enjoys the title of having the highest concentration of residential rehab and tear-down construction in Chicago. Former and long-time owner of West Town Center, Joseph Freed & Assoc. recognized the emergence of a higher income and stable housing population, the leading and necessary criteria for a reposition of a retail trade area, and went to great lengths to push the next phase of the shopping center’s evolution. Hitting a snag due to the Great Recession in 2008, the shopping center underwent an ownership change, with Centrum successfully winning the bid and hitting the ground running with a major transformation commencing in early 2012.  

The first objective was changing the perception and branding of the center as it had become an eyesore to national retailers. The new marketing material featured a shedding of the old name in favor of The Wicker Park Commons and included new proposed elevation drawings showing a restoration of the façade to 1915 conditions with new storefronts.  In close consultation with the Ward’s Alderman and the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, Centrum tasked Mid-America with promoting the features and benefits of an outstanding and underserved West Town neighborhood, presenting The Wicker Park Commons as a hole in national retailers’ Chicago coverage and, most importantly, creating interest amongst the retail and brokerage communities.  

Step two included a reconfiguration of floor plans to properly accommodate the retail demand. This included a termination of existing tenant, Staples, in preparation for a new merchandising plan reflective of the neighborhood.  

Step three consisted of negotiating long-term leases with existing anchor, Jewel Osco grocery, for 20 years; finalize new deals with Pet Supplies Plus, Potbelly Sandwich Works, Vitamin Shoppe, and Sleepys The Mattress Professionals with more to be announced shortly.

Greg Bayer | Senior Vice President
Mid-America Real Estate Corporation
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