Open space: Vacant retail locations in Naperville

The empty 85,000 square feet inside the building at 1568 W. Ogden Ave. in Naperville have sat deserted for the past dozen years. It was that long ago when Menards moved out of the space it had been leasing from Kmart Corp. since 1991 and moved into its current site, nearly twice as roomy, at Aurora Avenue and Fort Hill Drive.

“We’re hoping that some tenant will come in, but it’s been a long haul over there, that’s for sure,” said Christine Jeffries, president of the Naperville Development Partnership.

The previous home of the Naperville Walmart has been vacant for much less time, just a few months. That site, just north of the Sam’s Club store northeast of Ogden and Route 59, has been unoccupied only for the few months since construction of Walmart’s new 185,000-square-foot store at 75th Street and Beebe Drive was completed.

New tenants for either vacant site are not currently within view.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have any proposals or permits for those spaces,” said Anastasia Urban, development manager in the city’s Transportation, Engineering and Development group. “We’ve received a few zoning inquiries, to verify zoning, but no one has disclosed users, nor have they submitted permits.”

Despite a steadily chugging economic recovery that has rejuvenated the city’s income from retail sales tax and real estate transactions, retail expansion is lagging a bit, particularly where it involves large stretches of space outside the downtown shopping district. Those watching the rebound, however, are upbeat about the prospects of a retail return.

“We actually have put together a subcommittee to look at Ogden Avenue in its entirety,” Jeffries said. “There’s been a lot of movement in the corridor and there’s been a lot of redevelopment there.”

Although several new auto dealerships have opened up shop lately along Ogden, the city has taken steps to sweeten the deal for others looking to set up business on the busy roadway that curves across north and northwest Naperville. The Ogden Avenue Site Improvement Grant Program helps owners of properties and businesses in the corridor between Rickert Drive and Naper Boulevard with matching grants to help cover the costs of improvements to signs, landscaping, building facades and access networks.

Other areas of the city are also seeing long-running vacancies in relatively large retail spaces. The three Dominick’s supermarkets that were closed late last year as part of their parent company’s exit from the Chicago market remain vacant. The Aurora location of a former Dominick’s at Eola Road and New York Street was among 11 locations purchased last year by parent company Roundy’s Inc. to be converted into Mariano’s grocery markets, but no plans have been announced to follow suit in Naperville.

Smaller storefronts pose less financial risk for potential retailers, and that is being illustrated in some parts of Naperville. The 21,323-square-foot English Rows Town Centre southwest of 103rd Street and Route 59, all but abandoned a year or two ago, now has tenants in all of its spaces.

Business also is good in the opposite corner of town, where the Freedom Commons retail center is host to a thriving collection of restaurants and service enterprises that have taken up leased space in the development north of Diehl Road.

“All of them are doing very, very well,” Jeffries said.

That is less true of some available spots along Route 59 on the northwest side of town. With the Illinois Department of Transportation’s two-year, $118 million overhaul of the three-mile highway stretch just about half finished, the open retail spaces within the construction zone — between Ferry Road and just south of Aurora Avenue — are proving a hard sell.

“That’s a little tougher,” said Jeffries, who surmised that interested business owners might prefer holding off on plans to open in that area until closer to the project’s expected completion in fall 2015.

In the meantime, the advisory committee overseeing development of the Ogden Avenue corridor is working to encourage continued growth there.

“There’s quite a bit of interest out there now,” Jeffries said. “It’s just a matter of how it plays out.”

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