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Kadner: Lincoln Mall a ‘dangerous eyesore’

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Updated: September 9, 2013 2:47PM



Few sights are as sad as a fallen giant.

Lincoln Mall in Matteson once was a glorious thing. It opened in 1973 on 60 acres at U.S. 30 and Cicero Avenue and, at its peak, featured more than 90 retail stores over 265,000 square feet of space.

Today, the eastern exterior of the indoor mall, where a Montgomery Ward store once stood, literally is crumbling.

It looks like something that belongs in post-World War II Berlin, with the facade peeling, concrete crumbling and iron beams exposed to the elements. Weeds five feet tall grow in a field nearby.

The village of Matteson claims that the mall poses a danger to customers and store employees.

“Forty years after it opened, Lincoln Mall has deteriorated to the point that visitors are being exposed to conditions so dangerous that the mall should be immediately closed until its owner makes upgrades to ensure the public’s safety,” village officials said in a news release.

They held a news conference Wednesday in an outlet parking lot to announce that the village filed a lawsuit Wednesday, asking a Cook County Circuit Court judge to appoint a receiver to make the public safety upgrades that village officials contend that the mall’s owner, Michael Kohan, of New York, has failed to make.

The interior of the mall actually looks fairly well maintained. The most obvious problem to the casual observer walking the corridors is that more than half the retail space is vacant.

According to village officials, there are about 45 tenants remaining, with Carson Pirie Scott the only anchor store left.

The mall was purchased at auction last year for a paltry $150,000, according to village attorney Anthony Licata, because about $700,000 in back property taxes were owed.

Despite numerous requests by the village, Licata said, Kohan has refused to invest in renovating the mall.

Kohan told SouthtownStar reporter Casey Toner that he’s willing to invest in repairs (which would cost an estimated $700,000) but needs more time.

Village officials claim they have given Kohan numerous opportunities to show good faith, and he has failed to do so.

Bill Shugan, owner of Somewear Men’s Apparel, expressed the concern of the mall merchants.

“We’re in trouble,” he said. “I’ve been in business here for 10 or 12 years, and even when this mall was in foreclosure for about three years, we did all right under a receivership.

“But we’ve lost a lot of business in the last year. People look at the condition of the mall outside and think it’s closed. I have six store employees who rely on my business to put food on the table and pay college tuitions, and they need their jobs and their paychecks.

“But I’m worried for their safety. In the event of a fire, there’s no quick way out. One of the exits is blocked off.”

Indeed, Matteson fire officials contend that one of the “exit signs” eventually leads to a padlocked door and another to a solid wall with no exit at all.

“After this, I’m heading for Las Vegas for the big fall merchandise line exhibition, and I don’t know if I’m going to be buying or canceling orders,” Shugan said. “Right now, it looks like all I’m going to be doing is playing a lot of golf.”

Other tenants refused to comment on the record for fear of retaliation by Kohan. But they all maintained that while business was off, new customers would come if only there was some investment in the mall’s appearance.

At midday Wednesday, I saw only a few dozen shoppers in the mall.

There are retail experts who claim that regional indoor malls are obsolete and dying. They say people today want to go to a store, get what they want and get out without having to walk long distances through a mall.

Back in 1976, when Orland Square Mall opened in Orland Park, three years after Lincoln Mall, I recall people talking about indoor malls as the new general stores of America.

They were not only places that sold all sorts of things but gathering spots for the community. The new town squares, some said.

Indeed, a slew of movies came out of Hollywood that centered around the shopping mall and its importance to suburban America.

It wasn’t long ago that a second indoor mall in Orland Park, across from Orland Square, failed. With all the stores under one roof, no one came.

But a retail developer came up with a plan to transform the failing mall into one where most of the stores faced busy LaGrange Road and shoppers could enter each directly from outside. The new mall, Orland Park Place, has boomed.

Evergreen Plaza, the first suburban shopping mall, at 95th Street and Western Avenue, is another relic that has been faltering for years. Village officials keep talking about a renovation project that might be similar to Orland Park Place, but nothing ever seems to happen.

Matteson officials claim they don’t want to see Lincoln Mall close. They merely want to see more than two dozen building code violations, which existed before Kohan took over, corrected.

The fact is that the mall, rather than being an asset to the village at this point, is an eyesore.

Village administrator Brian Mitchell, who attended the news conference, did not know how much annual sales tax revenue the mall generated for the village.

Asked why Matteson had not merely posted a notice on the doors of the mall, closing it for safety reasons, the attorney for the village said it was trying to be fair to the merchants and people employed there.

But either the place is a public safety hazard or it isn’t. Either peoples’ lives are in danger or they’re not.

There may be no saving Lincoln Mall. It’s time may be passed.

But this once-grand consumer palace doesn’t stand a chance without a major facelift.

Simply put, it looks like its been mauled.



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