Target makes ‘casual inquiry’ about succeeding Macy’s at Water Tower Place

The discount retailer’s interest in the prime spot could start a debate over whether it fits the Magnificent Mile’s image.

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Macy’s is in its final weeks of operations at Water Tower Place.

Macy’s is in its final weeks of operations at Water Tower Place.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

Target has made a “casual inquiry” about filling the vacancy created by Macy’s impending exit from Water Tower Place, but they’re not yet negotiating so it’s not an idea worth “vetting with the community,” the local alderman said Tuesday.

Real estate brokers who handle retail space also said the discounter has asked about space at the vertical mall, the anchor of the exclusive Michigan Avenue corridor dubbed the Magnificent Mile. The street has fallen on hard times because of broad trends in retail, a pandemic that has crimped tourism and last year’s unrest that produced boarded-up stores.

One source said Target also was interested in ground-floor space at 875 N. Michigan Ave., the former John Hancock Building. A Target spokeswoman declined to comment on any lease inquiries.

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) said he has a commitment from Brookfield Properties, the owners of Water Tower Place, that when they get to the point where they’re “in negotiations with a serious potential replacement” for Macy’s, they’ll notify him and that will trigger a “community process.”

“ Target did make an inquiry to see when Macy’s was leaving. ... They were one of the companies that expressed some degree of interest but that’s it,” Hopkins said.

“It hasn’t gone beyond that at this point. That’s not to say it won’t. I don’t know if it will or not.” Brookfield could not be reached for comment.

Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas, who lives near Water Tower Place, is none too happy about the possibility of Target filling the space in the once-proud mall.

During a recent interview on WGN Radio, Pappas alternately condemned the idea of Target filling the Macy’s space as “disgusting,” “desperate” and “embarrassing to this city.”

A move onto the Mag Mile could raise questions about equity. Target could be forced to defend expanding onto a posh street after closing two locations in Black neighborhoods on the South Side in 2019.

But opening in Water Tower Place could make sense and help the mall’s owner, said Jacqueline Hayes, a retail broker. “It’s a large space they have to fill, and there’s not a lot of big users,” she said.

Macy’s covers 170,000 square feet on nine levels of the mall. It is in the final weeks of its “store closing” sale.

Kimberly Bares, president and CEO of the Magnificent Mile Association, said Target could provide a boost for the avenue. She said the district has absorbed other retailers some regarded as too downscale for the corridor. They enhanced their design to fit the location, she said, citing as examples flagship stores for the Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile networks.

“Whenever someone comes here, we expect them to do something a little special,” Bares said.

She said the retail district has 3.1 million square feet, with a vacancy of around 11% and an “unofficial” vacancy rate of around 20%, counting stores looking to exit leases. “Target would be an important anchor, but it’s just part of the overall picture here,” Bares said.

Hopkins also said Target could be up to the task, especially if it includes groceries at the location. He noted that Target “operates successfully” on Illinois Street in Streeterville and has an “upscale facility” on Lincoln Avenue in Lincoln Park.

Hopkins noted that the “last new use” for Water Tower Place that he supported after a community process was the Spirits and Spice store that had its grand opening in the middle of the pandemic. He called it an example of “experience-oriented retail” that represents the future.

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