September 22 , 2017

A local family is moving forward with plans to open an indoor skating rink with synthetic ice at Hawthorn Mall in Vernon Hills.

Village trustees marveled at the technology during a Tuesday night committee meeting and voted unanimously to slate the permits for approval during their Oct. 3 board meeting.

Compared to its neighbors, Vernon Hills is often referenced as a corporate-heavy economy. Alena and Kevin Jotkus said they don’t mind being among the few small businesses in town.

 “We live in Riverwoods, but we lived in Mundelein for a long time when our kids were little and we loved Hawthorn Mall,” Alena Jotkus said. “We spent tons of time there as a family.”

The idea for the business has roots in their own children’s interest in skating.

 “Our kids loved to skate and we would try to go to traditional public skating rinks, but every time we would visit it was always hockey practice or figure skating training,” Alena Jotkus said. “We could never nail down when open skating hours were. Well, ours will be exclusively for open, community skating.”

Known as “Rink in the Mall,” the business will have 56 panels of synthetic ice creating a 54-foot by 24-foot rink inside the 6,500-square-foot storefront located on the second floor next to the food court, according to a village memo.

 “It feels like plastic,” Alena Jotkus said.

The rink would accommodate 20 skaters, while 30 other patrons could sit on bleachers or at tables where outside food is allowed, according to Alena Jotkus. She said cost for admission will be $15 per hour and it includes skate rentals if patrons don’t have their own.

Vernon Hills Mayor Roger Byrne during Tuesday’s meeting asked about the use of helmets and if weight would be an issue for the mall’s structural integrity.

Building Commissioner Mike Atkinson said the mall’s second floor consists of reinforced concrete, which is more than enough to support the synthetic ice.

 “Most of the weight will come from the concentrated number of people in the area,” Atkinson said.

Alena Jotkus said traditional ice rinks do not require helmets, so she does not plan on using them either. She said a published study of the ice shows it is softer, more flexible, and better able to absorb the force of a fall when compared to ice.

 “I imagine with this space being so much smaller than the average ice rink the skaters won’t be able to get much speed anyway,” Village Trustee David Oppenheim said.

Jeff Rutzen, general manager of Hawthorn Mall, attended Tuesday’s meeting and afterward said he’s excited about Rink in the Mall.

 “It fits perfectly into what we’re trying to do at Hawthorn Mall,” Rutzen said. “The retail climate is changing, so any opportunity we can take to create experiences for our customers is something we’re going to do, and this was a perfect opportunity. It’s in a great location, too, with the food court and play space right outside.”

Australia-based Westfield sold 80 percent of its stake in Hawthorn Mall in January 2016 and a group of three investment firms took over, led by Centennial Real Estate Company. Officials from Centennial quickly proclaimed their desire to add more experience-based businesses and community attractions to the mall.

For Alena and Kevin Jotkus, it will be their first small business venture.

 “I’m an attorney and my husband is a developer and designer,” Alena Jotkus said. “This is just something we want to do and something that will make us happy and brink happiness to others.”

While investigating the idea, Alena Jotkus said she and her husband visited similar rinks at the John Hancock building and at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Chicago.

 “Everybody loved it,” Alena Jotkus said. “Having children involved and having their input on what they’d like to have, that was invaluable information for our project.”

The synthetic ice costs about $60,000 and takes one day to install, Alena Jotkus said. She said their order was placed and put on hold pending Vernon Hills’ approval and could be delivered within 45 days.

 “We hope to be open by the holidays,” Alena Jotkus said.

Rink in the Mall signed a multi-year lease, she said.



Rick Kambic

Staff Reporter for @ChicagoTribune suburban chain Pioneer Press Also an @EIUgrad, jokester & sports junky. Cell: 312-841-4651

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