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Amazon pays $50 million for former Old Chicago amusement park and megamall site

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Final Dread, the Unquiet Earth, Ghostland, Armageddon
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« on: June 23, 2020, 01:16:44 am »

Amazon pays $50 million for former Old Chicago amusement park and megamall site
By Ryan Ori and Lauren Zumbach
Chicago Tribune |
Feb 12, 2020 at 6:55 AM

Despite its short run, Robert Brindle's Old Chicago drew hundreds of thousands to the turn-of-the-century themed indoor amusement park and shopping center in Bolingbrook. Opened in 1975 as a year-round destination for families, the park quickly went bankrupt because of low attendance and lack of commercial interest. The park closed in 1980 and was demolished six years later. While all that remains of the park is a street in its name, Old Chicago served as a conceptual blueprint for successful amusement park malls nationwide. In this photo from 1975, Dixieland bands were part of the free entertainment in the shop-lined New Orleans square at Old Chicago. (Frank Harris / Chicago Tribune)
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Online retail giant Amazon has paid more than $50 million for the former site of Old Chicago, an indoor amusement park and mall in Bolingbrook that predated massive experiential shopping centers like Minnesota’s Mall of America.

Amazon’s purchase likely paves the way for the site to become the latest in an already vast network of Amazon distribution centers throughout the Chicago area.

Amazon’s redevelopment of the property would bring a 21st century use to a site best known for the short-lived heyday of Old Chicago, which opened to fanfare in 1975 but closed in 1980. The venue had amusement rides, circus performers and a concert venue, but it failed after running up costs and struggling to keep visitors coming back.

The massive Old Chicago structure featured a 16-story dome and was demolished in 1986.
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Seattle-based Amazon on Jan. 21 paid $50.5 million for the site, according to Will County property records.

The 119-acre site is along the east and west sides of Illinois Route 53, just south of Interstate 55. The site’s address is 200 Old Chicago Drive.
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The seller was Atlanta-based Cox Automotive, which in November shut down the Manheim Arena Illinois auto auction center on the site. Cox laid off 223 workers and offered 170 employees jobs in south suburban Matteson.

CBRE broker Matt Ishikawa represented Cox in the sale.

Amazon declined to comment on its plans for the site but said in an email that the purchase “provides us with the flexibility to quickly respond to our future network needs.”
Remembering the Chicago amusement parks that filled summertime with thrills and spills and water »

With relatively easy access to interstates 55, 355, 80 and 88, the land is well located for a massive distribution center.

The e-commerce company has opened more than 20 warehouse facilities in Illinois within the past four years, according to supply chain and logistics consulting firm MWPVL International.

In January, the Tribune reported Amazon was planning a distribution center on another site formerly known for entertainment. Amazon leased a three-building, 623,000-square-foot distribution center on the former site of the Maywood Park horse track just west of the city in Melrose Park.

The former Old Chicago site is about three times larger.

The idea of combining shops, amusement park rides and live entertainment under a single roof was innovative when Old Chicago opened in 1975. Canada’s West Edmonton Mall and the Mall of America, which combine shopping with attractions like rides, mini golf, escape rooms and aquariums, wouldn’t open until 1981 and 1992, respectively.

But Old Chicago was “troubled from the get-go,” said Neil Stern, senior partner with Chicago-based retail consultancy McMillanDoolittle, who recalls visiting the indoor amusement park as a kid. “It was never economically viable.”

The $20 million, 500,000-square-foot building cracked while under construction, leading to cost overruns. A trapeze artist fell to his death in front of hundreds of spectators. Six Flags Great America opened just one year later in Gurnee, creating competition.

Nor was its location in then-remote Bolingbrook ideal. A 1975 photo shows Old Chicago’s massive dome rising above a field and farm buildings along I-55.

While it had roughly 200 shops, they were designed to host small boutiques, not big, name-brand destination stores, and two years after opening, occupancy had fallen to 54%. Old Chicago drew 2 million visitors in its first year, but just 900,000 in 1977, the Tribune reported at the time.

Old Chicago’s original owners sought bankruptcy protection roughly a year after opening. New owners invested $6 million in improvements, but it closed in 1980.

There have been only a handful of similarly massive, entertainment-driven malls since, Stern said. Three — Mall of America, West Edmonton Mall and New Jersey’s American Dream Mall, which partially opened last year with attractions including an indoor skill hill — are owned by the same firm, Triple Five Group.

“You have to get everything just perfect about it — the right location, the right mix, filling a hole in the market. I think it’s absolutely doable, but it’s not like these have taken over the world,” he said.
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