The countdown before Christmas and New Year's Eve has officially begun, but the passing days mean more than the approaching end of the holiday season.
It also marks the approaching end of the store that has been anchoring downtown Highland Park's Renaissance Place since it opened years ago: Saks Fifth Avenue.
The store announced in September it would close on Dec. 31. Nearby M Restaurant recently shuttered as well.
Though few details have been revealed about what's next for Renaissance Place, the real estate company that owns it may be considering placing a mix of independently owned boutiques as well as larger national chains in the Saks space. Developers took a similar approach to the old Borders location on Central Avenue.
Some Highland Park residents are excited at the possibilities Saks' closing opens up for reinvigorating this segment of downtown.
"This is an opportunity for Highland Park to help guide the reinvention of the north end of second street, which has always been lackluster," Real estate developer Jon Plotkin said in an email in September.
The Saks closing means approximately 60 people employed in the Highland Park store will either be offered transfer opportunities or will get separation packages, according to Business Wire.
City Councilman Tony Blumberg wasn't surprised to hear Saks would be closing when the news broke in September. The former plan commissioner spoke out against Renaissance Place, and Saks in particular, before both were built.
"My objection at the time that Renaisance Place was proposed was having a modest mall anchored by a clothing and fashion oriented store, because at that time what was dying in the economy was the clothing industry," Blumberg explained. "That didn't seem terribly farsighted to me."
The Councilman has said, however, that he is more interested in figuring out what to do with the space once Saks closes than wondering if it should have been opened to begin with. He thinks the city has a responsibility to get involved in the process of repurposing the space. Parking in that area of downtown discourages shopping, according to Blumberg and some Patch readers.
"The location on the Northeast corner of Green Bay and Central gets little foot traffic and you have to park in the Garage as there is little street parking within a block of the location," wrote Richard Heineman while discussing the closing of M Restaurant. "This is a terrible spot for a restaurant and not great for retail."
One suggestion Blumberg had was to "put Green Bay Road on a diet," widening the sidewalk all the way to Central Avenue to make the corner more viable. Diagonal parking could be available at the curb. Green Bay Road would become three lanes instead of two, allowing for additional plants and trees, and perhaps some mobile furniture.
"The City Council is constantly debating what we can do to make doing business easier in Highland Park," Blumberg said. "What can be done along Green Bay north of Central Avenue?"
What do you think can be done to improve downtown Highland Park north of Central Avenue? Share your thoughts in the comments.