NORTHWOODS MALL
West War Memorial Drive / US 150 and West Scenic Drive
City of Peoria, Illinois

The first fully-enclosed shopping center in Greater Peoria was officially dedicated in September 1972. Encompassing approximately 500,000 leasable square feet, PEKIN MALL was located in an unincorporated section of Tazewell County known as Pekin Heights.

At the time that PEKIN MALL was being completed, a second mall was under construction on a 56 acre site, lying 3.4 miles northwest of downtown Peoria. NORTHWOODS MALL was being developed by a joint venture of Chicago's Carson Pirie Scott (a.k.a. Carson's), Montgomery Ward and J.C. Penney. The complex was designed by Chicago's Sidney H. Morris & Associates.

Plans for a northern Peoria shopping hub had been conceived by Carson Pirie Scott, who had purchased land (which eventually became the NORTHWOODS MALL site) in 1961. Soon after, Ward's and Penney's committed to the project. Construction would be delayed by litigation instigated by center city Peoria merchants in 1965.

The lawsuit was settled in 1969 and City of Peoria zoning approval was granted early in 1970. The first shovel of earth was turned October 26, 1971. The 25 million dollar NORTHWOODS MALL was officially dedicated August 16, 1973. 

Consisting of 2 retail levels, NORTHWOODS MALL encompassed 684,000 leasable square feet and over one hundred stores and services. The complex was anchored by a 2-level (155,500 square foot) Carson's, 2-level (149,800 square foot) Montgomery Ward and 2-level (156,400 square foot) J.C. Penney; this store commenced operation on January 2, 1974.

Original inline stores included Radio Shack, Seno & Sons Formal Wear, Campus Music Shop, Jeans West, Petrie Shoes, Brown's Sporting Goods, Lane Bryant, Orange Bowl, Singer Sewing Center, Foxmoor Casuals, Musicland, a Farrell's Ice Cream Parlor and Peoria Inn Restaurant. Interior decor features included sunken seating areas, a 40-foot-high Center Court sculpture and 4-faced Center Court clock tower.

Anchor rebrandings began early on. Carson's closed in 1983, with its space becoming a St. Louis-based Famous-Barr October 3, 1985. The Ward's location became the next anchor to change nameplates. It was shuttered November 15, 1997 and re-opened, as a Sears, September 19, 1998.

Meanwhile, ownership of the mall had changed hands. Carson's sold their 33 percent interest, to Cleveland's Richard E. Jacobs Group, in May 1983. Montgomery Ward sold their share to Melvin Simon & Associates (today's Simon Property Group) in October of the same year. Eventually, Simon would establish full ownership of the property.

The shopping hub's position as the preeminent retail venue in the area had been threatened in 1988, when a downtown mall was proposed for Peoria's center city. This project was eventually abandoned. Plans for a 900,000 square foot RIVER CITY GALLERIA, to be built in the city's northwestern environs, were announced in May 1997. This project became a hotly-contested issue for years to come.

Simon had been wanting to expand its NORTHWOODS property for some time, but was thwarted by the city government, who felt that the mall site was not large enough to accommodate any substantial enlargement of the existing structure. However, a small addition to Famous-Barr, increasing its area to 165,500 square feet, had been allowed in the early 1990s.

By 1998, plans for RIVER CITY GALLERIA had been scraped and replaced with designs for an open-air shopopolis, tentatively named THE PROMENADE. Meanwhile, Simon was conducting a 20 million dollar renovation of NORTHWOODS MALL.

A 10-bay Food Court was installed at the Upper Level Main Entrance, seating areas and fountains removed, new lighting installed and the interior given a facelift. Inline stores, such as Eddie Bauer, Pacific Sunwear, GapKids, Abercrombie & Fitch and The Disney Store, also came to the mall.

Following years of failed attempts, NORTHWOODS was finally presented with a regional-class retail rival. THE SHOPPES AT GRAND PRAIRIE, built on the prospective GALLERIA / PROMENADE site {3.3 miles northwest of NORTHWOODS}, opened in April 2003. The open-air, lifestyle-format venue encompassed 490,000 leasable square feet and seventy stores and services.

The Simon Property Group created a spin-off Real Estate Investment Trust in May 2014. Known as the Washington Prime Group, it assumed ownership of forty-four of Simon's "Grade B" malls, including NORTHWOODS MALL. In early 2015, the newly-formed Washington Prime Group merged with Columbus, Ohio's Glimcher Realty Trust.

In the Twenty-tens, NORTHWOODS MALL houses 694,000 leasable square feet and over ninety inline stores. Its Famous-Barr was rebranded by Macy's September 9, 2006. This store was shuttered in March 2016.

Sources:

www.labelscar.com / "Prange Way"
www.simon.com
The Peoria Chronicle
Comment post by Randy
www.eyecorp.com
Peoria County, Illinois property tax assessor website
http://www.dmassociates.com (DMS Development Management Associates)