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Retail Base

A 45-acre Town Center injects vitality into a new community rising on the site of a decommissioned naval air station.

September 01, 2004 |

For more than half a century, Glenview Naval Air Station occupied a 1,121-acre site in the Chicago suburb from which its name is derived. From its establishment in 1937, Glenview NAS trained some 10,000 aviation cadets. During World War II, more than 15,000 pilots, including a young aviator named George H.W. Bush, received aircraft carrier qualification at the base.

Glenview, which lies 20 miles north of Chicago's Loop, is a relatively affluent bedroom suburb, with 54% of its land area dedicated to single-family housing (median value: $233,400).

In the early 1990s, with the end of the Cold War, village trustees learned that the Pentagon planned to close the naval air station. But unlike many other communities that faced base closings, Glenview was able to capitalize on its location to convert what could have been a white elephant into a vibrant new residential and retail enterprise.

The Glen, a 1.5 square-mile new community with more than 3,000 residents, now bustles with civilian activity, at the center of which is a 45-acre Town Center.

OliverMcMillan of San Diego is developer of the Town Center, which is 92% leased after its opening last October. "We feel fortunate to have received the kind of reception we've had," says OliverMcMillan principal Paul Buss.

OliverMcMillan developed 470,000 sf of retail, well more than half of The Glen's total 905,000 sf of retail. The remaining retail is located in a supermarket-anchored center at the south end of The Glen, a big-box center at the north end, and a 2.3-acre convenience center adjacent to a new commuter rail station at The Glen's eastern border.

The significance of The Glen's retail component is indicated by data compiled by Melaniphy & Associates, a Chicago-based retail real estate consulting firm. Melaniphy reported that in 2003, for the second year in a row, Glenview had the greatest sales growth of any Chicago area community. Its sales climbed 24% to $1.1 billion, fueled by stores in The Glen. Meanwhile, retail sales in communities with regional shopping malls declined, a development that Melaniphy attributes to consumers' disenchantment with traditional malls.

Retail venues that opened last October include the 160,000 sf Von Maur Department Store, the 80,000 sf Galyan's sports store, and the 10-screen Crown Glen theaters.

The Town Center design process was "very collaborative," according to Marty Borko, project principal with Gensler, which was primarily responsible for most of the retail buildings on the west side of Tower Drive, which bisects the Town Center. Chicago architect Pappageorge Haymes was primarily responsible for the retail/rental apartment buildings on the east side of Tower Drive, as well as the residential condominium buildings that flank the Town Center.

OliverMcMillan purchased the 45-acre Town Center site for $38 million — an amount that was paid to the village of Glenview in the form of cash and revenue-sharing funds. The village also provided a $76.5 million incentive that was used primarily for the construction of public infrastructure. In addition to repayment of this front-end purchase price, over a 20-year period the Glen Town Center is projected to generate $140 million in property taxes and $30 million in sales taxes.


The combination of rental apartments above ground-level retail gives The Glen’s Town Center a mixed-use character.

On this basis, the return would be more than four times the village's initial investment of approximately $40 million, according to Don Owen, Glenview's economic development director. Owen was previously transition coordinator at the base, his final assignment before retiring from the Navy.

A touch of Navy nostalgia

Portions of a Navy building known as Hangar One were incorporated into the Town Center as its signature element. The village struck a deal with state preservation officials declaring the building historic, but permitting it to be demolished if deemed incompatible with the project's functional requirements.

"Tearing the whole thing down and starting from scratch would have been less expensive," says Bernie Woytek, senior project with Gensler.

However, following a successful negotiation with OliverMcMillan, a substantial portion of the hangar was retained and adaptively reused for retail tenants. The rear portion of the building, which was constructed as early as 1929 when the airfield was in private hands, was a typical industrial type of structure enclosed with aluminum siding. The brick-clad east portion, which included a 55-foot-tall control tower and incorporated elements of Bauhaus and Modernist styles, was constructed in the 1940s.

Village officials wanted to reuse as much as 80% of the hangar, but only 25% was saved, including the more important eastern portion and its façade. The hangar section was removed to accommodate the high-bay space requirements of new store buildings that were constructed on either side of Hangar One.

A group of Navy personnel who were once stationed at the base wanted to use Hangar One for a museum, but couldn't get funding. OliverMcMillan ultimately built out part of the space as an inducement to attract a bookstore, whose aviation-themed interior incorporates the hangar building's original 1920s-era exposed trusses.

Village trustees reviewed every element of the development, from the master plan to signage. "They were always willing to work with us," says Woytek. "They saw the potential, and wanted it realized to the greatest extent possible."

It was important that a sense of place be incorporated into the Town Center, says Borko. For example, the sidewalks are 13–15 feet wide, with a two-foot width of granite pavers along the curb — enough room to accommodate tables for outdoor dining.


The signature Hangar One building is visible along the length of Tower Drive. Anchor tenants — a department store and a sporting goods retailer — occupy new construction on either side.

The objective was to create a comfortable environment for walking and window shopping. Unlike an adjacent arterial road, Tower Drive is curved, which theoretically slows down traffic, as wells as providing continuous views of Hangar One's control tower. "Once you're on Tower Drive, it's all about the pedestrian," Owen says. Pedestrian crosswalks in the Town Center are guarded by stop signs, but there are no traffic lights.

Earlier annexation aids transition

Glenview annexed the base in 1971, a move prompted by the village's expansion to the eastern edge of the base and the desire of areas to the west of the base to be annexed by the village. Owen says base conversions rarely involve land that is already part of an incorporated governmental jurisdiction, and many involve more than one jurisdiction, a complication Glenview did not have to face. A healthy economy in the late 1990s also helped. "A lot of stars aligned for us," Owen says.

The Glen has already added more than 3,000 to Glenview's population (currently 41,800). That total is expected to reach 4,000 when The Glen is fully built out, possibly within five years.

To provide adequate infrastructure for The Glen, the village removed many substandard roads and utilities that were adequate for the Navy, and installed new water, sanitary, and storm sewer lines. The Navy retained a 93-acre enclave of housing for personnel assigned to Great Lakes Naval Training Center, 20 miles to the north.

Just east of the Town Center is a 140-acre park that includes the 45-acre Lake Glenview. The lake serves primarily as a storm water retention pond, although nonpowered watercraft are permitted. In addition, the park district acquired 32 acres of prairie. A new middle school and village recreation center have also been built.

The base's 8,000- and 5,000-foot runways had to be torn up, and the cost of hauling away 300 acres of concrete debris was originally estimated at $28 million. Instead, the village elected to have a demolition contractor recycle the concrete for reuse on site, at a cost of only $5 million.

The best base conversion

Paul Reimer, whose civil engineering firm performed numerous assignments involving military base conversions beginning in the early 1990s, says The Glen is "probably the best base reuse story in the country." Reimer, a semi-retired principal consultant with RaPartners, Portolo Valley, Calif., says the affluent North Shore suburb where the base was located was able to provide generous seed money to help the development get started. And because the village was the only governing jurisdiction, the process of achieving consensus was vastly simplified. As the master developer, the village played an entrepreneurial role, assigning a full-time staff to the project.

The moderate size of the base also made the conversion more manageable. And while jet fuel contamination was discovered underneath the runways, the cleanup was promptly completed, and few other environmental hazards popped up.

Today, the boundary between the former base and the community has been wiped away. "They did a remarkably good job of blending the new development with the existing neighborhood," Reimer says.

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