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Wow: Southlake Mall to get digital river and virtual trees

Workers change the sign back to Southlake Mall outside the Hobart retail center in 2013. New owner Starwood is giving the mall a virtual river with digital trees and computer-generated salmon.

The Sears department store building at Southlake Mall is being auctioned online, but that doesn't necessarily mean the store itself will close.

The struggling Hoffman Estates-based retailer, which has been closing stores across the country for years and sold off its iconic Craftsman line of tools last year, is selling 16 stores nationwide in a bid to raise capital, but is looking for lease-back deals through which it could collect a windfall from a sale and pay rent to a new owner instead of continuing to own a building outright.

"We are pursuing a sale/leaseback of the Sears store," Sears spokesman Howard Riefs said. "The store will then be leased by Sears (instead of owned) and remain open to the public."

The highest bidder, however, would not be obligated to lease the property to Sears and could bring in another tenant. Some mall owners also have opted to demolish department stores and bring in outdoor "lifestyle centers" that mix restaurants, retail and public features like fountains in a faux Main Street-like environment.

Cushman & Wakefield and RealINSIGHT Marketplace are auctioning off the 210,404-square-foot Sears in Hobart, which was one of the original anchor stores when the Southlake Mall opened in 1974. It encompasses a 185,887-square-foot store and 24,517-square-foot single-story auto center on a 17.5-acre site that faces U.S. 30. The 44-year-old property was last renovated in 2003.

A public auction is slated to take place between noon and 2 p.m. May 22.

Along with Carson's, JC Penney, Macy's, and Dick's Sporting Goods, Sears is one of of the main anchors of the super-regional mall at U.S. 30 and Mississippi Street, which has more than 160 retailers and 1.4 million square feet of retail space.

Carson's parent company, The Bon-Ton Co., has warned the Carson's department store at the mall could close this year, but an investor group is trying to buy it and save it from liquidation.

Nationwide, Sears is selling 16 buildings and closing at least half a dozen stores. The Six Corners Association in Chicago's Portage Park neighborhood said that included Sears' last store in the city, the hulking three-story behemoth at 4730 W. Irving Park Road that towers over the Six Corners intersection. 

NWI Business Ins and Outs

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.