Three years after buying a swath of property south of Hilldale, the shopping center’s owner has announced it is moving forward with plans to expand the open-air mall.
But while the redevelopment of the former BMO Harris Bank property and an adjacent parking lot across from Great Dane Pub & Brewing Co. will include more retail and restaurants, the plans could also include a 90-room boutique hotel, a five-story building with 100 apartment units along Vernon Boulevard and the redevelopment of the AMC movie theater building if the struggling cinema company does not renew its lease.
No cost or timeline on the more than three-acre project has been released, but the development comes just prior to the shopping center’s 60th anniversary in 2022 and continues more than 15 years of redevelopment in which tens of millions of dollars have been invested in remaking one of the oldest shopping destinations in Madison.
“This proposal seems to be considering other things than just shopping and it’s consistent with what we’ve seen in the development of the Hilldale mall area over the past decade or so,” said Ald. Arvina Martin, who was briefed on the plans earlier this month and whose district includes Hilldale. “I think this is a sound development idea, but I want to make sure folks feel engaged and supportive. But if changes needs to be made, we make them. We’re at the absolute beginning here.”
The plan, presented Wednesday to the planning committee of the Hill Farms Neighborhood Association, also includes green space and room for an expanded farmers market. There will be charging stations for electric vehicles; tune-up stations and parking for bicycles; a dedicated space for live entertainment; and in the winter, an ice rink.
Neighborhood meetings could be held in September. WS Development, the owner of Hilldale, filed an application Wednesday with the city to request an informational presentation, said Kevin Firchow, who is with the city’s planning and development department.
Mike Lawton, who chairs the Hill Farms planning committee, has lived in the neighborhood for over 35 years and has seen first-hand the evolution of the shopping center. The newest proposed addition falls in line with the progressive improvements that have been happening on the property.
“They made it clear it’s not going to happen all at once. It’s going to be in phases,” said Lawton. “I think the impressions of the committee members were generally positive. It’s very early and they don’t have a lot of details, but based on what they showed us it’s generally positive.”
A brief history
The shopping center opened in 1962 and for much of its life was an enclosed mall. Major changes began in the early 2000s and continued when Chicago-based Joseph Freed & Associates purchased the property in 2004 and pumped millions of dollars into redevelopment projects. Condominiums were added along Midvale Boulevard and two parking ramps were constructed for shoppers.
On the center’s south side, University Bookstore expanded, Sundance 608 Cinema was built and Great Dane Pub & Brewing Co., Flat Top Grill and Ace Hardware were added. On the north side, Metcalfe’s Market expanded, a 150,000-square-foot Target with parking was added in 2011, and a Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar opened in 2007. But in 2009, Freed ran into financial difficulties and ultimately the shopping center was purchased by Massachusetts-based WS Development at a 2012 sheriff’s auction for $52 million.
In 2015, WS completed a $15 million, 53,000-square-foot redevelopment between Macy’s and Metcalfe’s Market that created an open-air corridor on the shopping center’s north end. The company followed that up in 2017 with an outdoor plaza between Macy’s and the movie theater, a project that created a new space for a revamped University Book Store, Apple store and an L.L. Bean store.
The newest proposal is being made possible after WS in 2018 purchased the bank property at 401 N. Segoe Road for $7.3 million. The property is adjacent to a parking lot already owned by WS and backs up to Vernon Boulevard.
The big picture
“Our goal has always been to make Hilldale a community destination,” said Nanci Horn, Hilldale’s general manager. “These additions make it even more inviting for our customers to spend an entire day here, shopping, eating, relaxing and spending time with friends and family. But we are also listening to the needs and wants of our growing community and trying to meet those as best we can.”
Hilldale features a mix of 55 national and local retailers, restaurants and entertainment options and is anchored by a Macy’s department store and Metcalfe’s Market. The shopping center has seen the departure of the North Face store, Fleming’s Steak House and Pasqual’s. Recent additions have included Shake Shack, Burn Boot Camp, Glitter Workshop, Indochino, Waterlily and Creando Exploratorium. Meanwhile, the former North Face space will soon be home to an expanded lululemon store.
The expansion of the shopping center to the south will mean more opportunities for retailers and restaurateurs, offer more community space, bring more people to the area and provide much needed housing, Martin said.
“Housing isn’t the main focus of this development, but they’re putting it in an area where there wasn’t housing there previously,” said Martin, who noted that 25,000 people are expected to move to Madison in the next decade. “We need to figure out where everyone is going to live. More housing is going to help.”
Wisconsin State Journal