Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau and former mayor Dan McLaughlin shared their opinions regarding the village’s business climate during a video town hall meeting and when it was over, the two exchanged some barbs regarding their positions on the Orland Square Mall.
Pekau defeated the longtime-serving McLaughlin in the 2017 election and the two are squaring off in a rematch in the April 6 election.
The video forum was hosted by the Orland Park Area Chamber of Commerce and moderated by Elliott Richardson of the Small Business Advocacy Council. It was not a debate, but each candidate made statements and were asked questions for 30 minutes.
When it came to the mall, McLaughlin has some major changes in mind if he is elected.
“I look forward to working with Orland Square to keep then as a viable entity in Orland Park,” he said. “It is imperative that we consider incentives that make shopping in Orland Square an experience that is both safe and unique.
“We should look into removing the roof and making it an open-air shopping center like Oak Brook. We should look at allowing residential on the property which would … allow young entrepreneurs to live within walking distance of their ventures.”
He is also floating the idea of adding a police satellite office at the mall to try to make the mall safer.
During Pekau’s time at the video meeting, he said he did not think the Simon property group that owns the mall would go for losing the roof.
“I know what his vision is and the first time I ran, I said the first thing we have to do is protect our mall,” Pekau said. “I met with Simon. They came here and brought many senior executives and I found out that six years before I got here, Mayor McLaughlin told them they wanted to make it into a town square type of a mall and they pretty much, without saying so, they laughed him out of the room.
“They have a top 1 percent traffic in the country in this mall and top 10 percent sales at this mall. Why in the world would a private entity ever look to demolish that to build residential and some retail? It would kill Orland Park if you did that right now. You would have four years of nothing. Noting would ever get built there again and we would love all of the businesses surrounding it.”
Pekau said in recent years when Sears and Carson’s left the mall the yet-to-be opened AMC Theaters and Von Maur department store moved in, it made the mall vibrant and that Simon agreed to put a park outside the mall to “soften the back.”
When asked if there were safety concerns at the mall, Pekau said he has seen data that indicates “We have the safest mall in the Chicagoland region.
“It’s safer than Oak Brook. It’s safer than Woodfield. The facts bear that out. Perception is really hard to change. Social media is a lot of that. It’s probably the safest place to be in Orland Park. If anything happens, we’re there within 30 seconds to a minute because we have a constant presence.”
He invited citizens with concerns to visit the mall again to witness for themselves the increased police presence.
In an email from McLaughlin’s group, One Orland, the notion that the mall is the safest place in the village was openly scoffed at.
“Crime at the mall is real, and it’s one of the most common concerns villagers express,” it read. “The mall has been the site of where many increased incidents of violence have taken place during the past few years and Pekau was caught on video admitting he doesn’t like going to the mall without carrying a gun — yet he’s done nothing to actually address citizens’ security concerns.”
McLaughlin was endorsed by Democratic Congresswoman Marie Newman last week and Pekau received an endorsement from former longtime village trustee Ed Schussler.
Orland Township Highway Commissioner Brian Younker announced Monday he will seek his fourth term and run as a write-in candidate. Antonio Rubino of the Orland Township Together Party is also running.