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Magnificent Mile: More Trouble For Area That Was Once A Crown Jewel Of American Retail

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Chicago Police have issued a formal warning after continued robberies on and around the city's Magnificent Mile, at a time when stores continue to leave while others fight to stay in business after big pandemic hits.

CBS 2's Tara Molina reports that retail leaders say the problem is so bad, that new business is hesitant to move in. That hesitation stems not only from the continued retail theft and robbery issue here, and across the city, but the perception that the city isn't a safe place to be right now.

A stretch of North Michigan Avenue remains vacant and locked up--telling of the struggle on the city's Mag Mile. Former tenants like Macy's and Disney are gone, and there are no plans for a new tenant for the old Macy's space at the Water Tower Place anytime soon.

"I think it does not help in terms of the recovery for downtown Chicago," said Robb Karr, president and CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association. "The impression around the nation is that Chicago is not a very safe place to be. And the incidents we saw this morning, over the weekend, the episodes before that, only feed that."

Karr said the sales tax loss related to these continued crimes hits the city, county, and state of Illinois. 

With continued robberies in the area, Chicago police have issued a warning about suspects only described as young men, in their teens, robbing items on display. No one is in custody, and the robberies are still under investigation.

"It's a serious problem, and we have to address it," said Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), adding the impact on the city is much bigger than the police warning because shoppers and visitors aren't the only people taking notice. "The commercial brokers tell us that when they get potential interest from a tenant, that's one of the first questions they ask, is what's happening in Chicago to stem the tide of retail shoplifting rings that have been operating with impunity downtown? And we don't have a good answer right now for that."

"We're hopeful those vacancy rates will continue to decline." 

But it's not just continued issues on and around the Mag Mile causing concern. At least three 7-Elevens were hit during the Monday morning commute, by crews of armed robbers downtown.

"The Police Department has to work in closer conjunction with the State's Attorneys office, they've been very reluctant to prosecute retail theft," said Hopkins.

Karr agreed.

"I think we have to look at prosecution," he said. "Clearly there's a feeling running through the criminal elements that there are no consequences here. We have to look to the courts, and I think we have to just look to all the players in this drama to get Chicago to what it once was."

Hopkins said Chicago police are trying to take a proactive approach by acting on information from sources.

"We have a tactical plan in place to respond to any intelligence that comes our way about planned retail theft. There was a rumor one of the high end stores on Oak Street was going to get hit, yet again, this weekend," he said. "We were able to deploy a force, including undercover resources. It didn't happen, fortunately, but we were ready if it did." 


The Cook County State's Attorney's office released the following statement with regard to concerns on the Mag Mile:

"We recognize community concerns around crime, and the impact it can have on one's sense of safety as well as the economic stability of a business. We continue to prosecute retail theft cases as misdemeanors and felonies when appropriate to do so based on the facts and evidence."

The State's Attorney's office said this year to date, its prosecutors have reviewed and issued charges for 38 retail theft cases in ZIP code 60611, which includes the Mag Mile and Streeterville. A total of 18 were approved for felony charges, 10 were prosecuted, and convictions were obtained for six.

The State's Attorney's office also noted that in December 2016, State's Attorney Kim Foxx increased the threshold for felony retail theft charges to $1,000, which the office said has allowed the prosecutors to focus on the drivers of violence rather than low-level nonviolent offenses. Prosecutors said misdemeanor charges are issued for some such thefts, but those are not included in the aforementioned data.

The State's Attorney's office also said this year to date, it has reviewed 82 gun cases in the 60611 ZIP code, approved charges on 70, prosecuted 29, and obtained convictions on 23.

Chicago Police did not respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, at least one Mag Mile store, Nieman Marcus, says it has no plans to go anywhere - despite the fact that the building that houses the store has been sold:

"Neiman Marcus Group has no plans to close its Chicago location. Neiman Marcus is currently a tenant in this building, which is owned by the 737 North Michigan Avenue Investors LLC."

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