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Local school district laments pandemic’s heavy toll on already struggling Eastland Mall

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BLOOMINGTON (HOI) -- Some big box stores, like Wal-Mart, were winners during COVID-19, but others are struggling to survive.

The Eastland Mall was closed for months during the pandemic and Gov. Pritzker's stay-at-home order.

Now that they're back open, their troubles are far form over, and permanent closure could be in the not-too-distant future.

The owner of Eastland Mall, Tennessee-based company CBL Properties, is now telling federal regulators that it might not be able to survive the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unfortunately, a significant part of the funding for District 87 schools comes from property taxes from the mall.

If it closed, Superintendent Barry Reilly is concerned that potential loss would impact not only the people who work there, but their district's funding as well.

"It's the most valuable piece of real estate in the county," Reilly explained, "therefore you want to put something there that is going to generate dollars to the local economy."

The superintendent understands COVID-19 has hit many businesses hard, big and small, but he says even prior to the pandemic, Eastland Mall has been struggling.

"The reality is, I have not seen any progress in investing in that mall in a way that would entice different types of businesses wanting to locate there," Reilly said.

Closure could cost area schools hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"We are a public school district that relies mainly on local tax revenue to support the education program that we run for kids. The mall is the biggest taxing body within the area for us, outside of State Farm. It's a huge piece of property, and it would be a significant tremendous loss."

Over the years, Reilly says the assessed value of the mall has been dropping steadily, and with it, the property tax revenue from it.

"The assessed value that could have been, let's say, $60 million a few years ago gets negotiated down to $48 million, which gets negotiated down to $32 million, and now they want to go lower," the superintendent explained, estimating the values over the years.

For now, Eastland Mall is back open, and customers are welcome as stores follow social distancing guidelines.

Sheridan Swathwood

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