Woodfield Mall attracts visitors from around the state, and is one of the area's greatest tourist attractions.

Schaumburg: A Magnet for Commerce & Culture

Its population doubles in the daytime, as out-of-towners converge on the city’s many shopping and playtime destinations, offices and industrial centers. Explore what makes this village one of the state’s strongest attractions.

Woodfield Mall attracts visitors from around the state, and is one of the area's greatest tourist attractions.
Woodfield Mall attracts visitors from around the state, and is one of the area’s greatest tourist attractions.

Ask someone who lives outside Chicagoland about the village of Schaumburg, and the first thing they’ll mention is Woodfield Mall, a top tourist destination in Illinois.

But Woodfield isn’t the only thing this suburban community has going for itself. Schaumburg is one of the largest centers of economic development in the state.

In addition to 9.5 million square feet of retail and commercial space, the village has more than 12 million square feet of office space and 13.5 million square feet of industrial space. There are 25 hotels with 4,200 rooms, not to mention 220 restaurants. Not too shabby for a community with 75,000 residents and a daytime population of 150,000.

Dave Parulo is president of Meet Chicago Northwest, a nonprofit destination marketing organization whose mission is to promote eight communities, including Schaumburg, for meetings, conventions, sporting events, group tours and leisure visits.

“Schaumburg is an absolutely fantastic meeting, convention and shopping destination,” he says. “Schaumburg is easily accessible to the tollway and highway systems, it’s close to O’Hare International Airport and has a vibrant corporate center.”

But Schaumburg is much more. It has more than 90 miles of bike paths and an arts center that includes a 442-seat theater, art gallery and outdoor stage. For outdoor lovers, Schaumburg offers Spring Valley, a refuge of 135 acres of fields, forests, marshes and streams with three miles of hiking trails, a nature center and an 1880s living history farm.

“We have many hidden gems,” says Matt Frank, Schaumburg’s economic development manager. “Outsiders know us for Woodfield, but they may not know Schaumburg for its cultural scene, farmers market, Schaumburg Boomers baseball and many recreation opportunities. We have all these amenities for families and working professionals that are outside the mall. We can cater to everyone from young professionals to seniors. It’s a great community that has built itself over the past 60 years.”

Al Larson became a village trustee in 1975 and has been Schaumburg’s mayor since 1987. “What I like is the sense of community,” he says. “I keep running into people who’ve been here 25 or 30 years. Our philosophy has always been, ‘Don’t be afraid to bring beauty into the public realm.’ We want Schaumburg to be attractive for people who want to live here and do business here. We’ve attracted a lot of commerce and industry, and that’s always going to be the case.”

Quiet Beginnings

The area now known as Schaumburg was first called Sarah’s Grove, a name that paid tribute to three families who lived near a grove of woods and each had a family member named Sarah. Residents debated new names at a meeting in 1850.

According to legend, a wealthy landowner named Friedrich Heinrich Nerge, at one point during the meeting, slammed his fist on the table and yelled, “It will be called Schaumburg,” referring to a part of Germany where many of the town’s early settlers had originated. The debate was settled.

Schaumburg Township thrived during its early days, especially when it came to farming. Primary sources of income came from the sale of potatoes, dairy products and cattle. The land was a large meadow surrounded by wilderness and wildlife such as geese, ducks, quail, pheasant and deer.

In 1858, a small market emerged at what is now the intersection of Schaumburg and Roselle roads. Schaumburg Centre, an attraction for area agricultural producers, included two general stores, four cheese factories, a cobbler, a tailor, a wagon maker and a blacksmith.

At the time, few roads existed and Schaumburg was relatively isolated. To reach a large market, farmers had to travel 27 miles in ox-drawn or horse-drawn wagons to Chicago. That changed by the middle of the 20th century. O’Hare Airport, near Rosemont, was expanded in 1955, and construction of the Northwest/Jane Addams Tollway a year later brought the advent of new business.

In 1959, construction began on the village’s first large residential subdivision, known as Weathersfield. Several thousand single-family homes were built there in 22 stages over two decades. In 1967, an apartment complex called International Village, located at Meacham and Algonquin roads, became Schaumburg’s first residential area not entirely occupied by single-family homes. The following year, Motorola began to construct its corporate headquarters across the street.

“One of the keys was when Bob Atcher became village president,” says Larson, the current mayor. “During his tenure, Woodfield Mall was built and Schaumburg also became a prime destination for corporations and industry.” Atcher, a former country/western singer who lived in Schaumburg, served as village president from 1959 to 1975.

Big Business

Many current community leaders credit their predecessors for the foresight and planning that has made today’s economic growth possible. The original comprehensive plan, adopted by the Village Board in 1961, reserved areas of land for industrial, commercial and office development, especially around Woodfield Mall.

“It all starts with location,” says Frank, the village’s economic development chief. “The convenience to O’Hare, the three expressways including I-90, I-290 and the new I-390 (former Elgin O’Hare Expressway), and getting people in and out of the community is huge for us. We have a good mix of office, retail and manufacturing that all come together to serve as a main gathering spot for the northwest suburbs.”

The largest employers in town are Motorola Solutions, Woodfield Mall and Zurich American Insurance. Woodfield Mall has 3,200 employees and nearly 300 stores and restaurants. Its owner, Indianapolis-based Simon, spent nearly $14 million on what general manager David Gott calls a “style evolution” of the 44-year-old, 2.2 million-square-foot complex. Over the past three years, 32 new retail stores have been opened and improvements made with new elevators, escalators, carpeting and tile.

“When Simon purchased the center, the goal was not to break what had always worked, but to improve on the things we could,” says Gott, who grew up in the area and fondly remembers celebrating his 8th birthday at Woodfield’s Farrell’s Ice Cream parlor.

New stores at Woodfield include Garrett Popcorn, Lululemon Athletica, Zara, Timberland and Arhaus. Sears has sublet 40,000 square feet to a new Pac-Man-themed restaurant, bar, bowling alley and arcade complex called Level 257.

Woodfield Mall remains a top tourist destination with millions of visitors every year. Shoppers come from all over, including bus tours from Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

“The key to being successful in this business is to understand the market you serve,” Gott says. “You have to continuously reinvent yourself. We’re not where we should be, but we’re working on it. Woodfield will continue to evolve.”

Outside of Woodfield, Schaumburg continues to successfully recruit new businesses. Among them: Sunstar Americas, 520 Machinery Sales, American Society of Anesthesiologists, Takisawa, Granite City Food & Brewery, Punch Bowl Social, H Mart Korean Grocery, Chick-fil-A, Hanwa American Corp. and Trader Joe’s. There’s more on the way, including Fairfield Inn & Suites, Hampton Inn, Marriott Town Place Suites, Motor Werks Auto Group, Michael’s and Art Van Furniture.

Several longtime developments continue to benefit Schaumburg. In 1994, the village bought the Schaumburg Regional Airport from private owners. The airport handles charter flights, corporate jets and private airplanes, and is home to the helicopters owned by Chicago-area media outlets. The airport houses 90 aircraft and performs 35,000 operations a year. Its estimated economic impact is $18.9 million annually.

The village purchased the Town Square shopping center in 1995 and began a complete redevelopment. The 27-acre site is now home to the Schaumburg Township District Library and the Trickster Gallery, a Native American museum. IKEA, the home furnishings store, opened near Woodfield in the late 1990s.

In 2000, the village purchased 45 acres next to Meacham Road that became the Renaissance Schaumburg Hotel & Convention Center in 2006. The convention center hosted 67 events in 2014, with an estimated 160,000 attendees. The convention center features a main hall with 97,000 square feet and total event space that adds up to more than 200,000 square feet. The estimated annual impact is approximately $43 million.

“With the convention center, we’ve landed more hotels, restaurants and corporate business,” says Frank. “It was a large investment, at $220 million to move forward with that project, but it’s paid huge dividends with the business that it’s brought around it.”

Culture & Entertainment

There’s never a shortage of things to do in Schaumburg.

The Prairie Center for the Arts, owned and operated by the Village of Schaumburg, opened in 1986 at a cost of $2.5 million, most of which was covered by developer donations. The original building was 16,000 square feet and included a 442-seat theatre, outdoor stage, art gallery and meeting space. In 1997, the Prairie Center expanded to include a 100-seat lecture hall, more meeting space, additional restrooms, dressing rooms and a video production studio.

“The Prairie Center for the Arts is a real gem,” says Larson, a longtime season ticket holder. “It’s a facility that is accessible and offers quality entertainment for people of all ages. It’s not just a place for entertainment, but a place to be educated, enlightened and engaged. Its impact as a regional destination is substantial.”

The Prairie Center has become one of the premier performance venues in the northwest suburbs, hosting local entertainment as well as international touring acts in music, dance, theater and film. The Prairie Center has welcomed entertainers such as Judy Collins, Paula Poundstone, the Smothers Brothers, Crystal Gayle and the Modern Jazz Quartet.

The center also rents its space to community organizations for theater productions, rehearsals, school concerts and plays, and to businesses that utilize the space for workshops, seminars and meetings. Last year, the Prairie Center hosted more than 800 events that drew patrons from around the region.

Programming decisions start with the Schaumburg Cultural Commission, which was formed in 1980 to provide input on the arts throughout the village, including at the Prairie Center.

“The nice thing about the commission is they represent the needs of the community,” says Betsy Armistead, director of cultural services for the village. “The commission has the diversity that allows us to offer the best programming possible.”

Programs for young people abound at the Prairie Center and include the award-winning Schaumburg Youth Orchestra, Schaumburg Dance Ensemble, Screen Test Student Film Fest, Summer Theatre and Schaumburg Youth Choir. The Prairie Center also serves as the second home for the Elgin Symphony Orchestra, which presents four concerts in Schaumburg each year.

Another cultural gem is the Trickster Art Gallery (TAG), the only Native American-owned and -operated arts center in Illinois. TAG is located in a two-story, 10,000 square-foot facility that was once a feed and grain store and now is owned by the village.

“The Trickster Gallery is the place where the Native American voice can be seen and heard, to paint a different picture about Native American culture,” says CEO Joe Podlasek. “Our goal is to share our native voices with others.”

TAG rotates exhibits of paintings, sculptures, pottery, workshops on dance and music, and other visual media. TAG has expanded to include workshops, American Indian Veterans’ displays, poetry slams and art exchanges with the Illinois Historical Museum and Smithsonian Institute.

For school-aged children, TAG offers hands-on exhibits, native games, art activities, a library, native music and dance, a tepee and a large map on the floor with Indian nations and tribes depicted as they were in the early 1800s.

Of architectural importance, the Schweikher House, built in 1938, is the former home of Chicago architect Paul Schweikher. The modernist home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and recognized by the American Institute of Architects as one of the top 150 architectural sites in Illinois. Public and private tours showcase many of the home’s stunning features, including a brick fireplace, a Japanese soaking tub and gardens designed by landscape architect Franz Lipp.

In summertime, locals enjoy catching a Schaumburg Boomers baseball game at Schaumburg Boomers Stadium. The independent minor league team began play in 2012 and won back-to-back championships in 2013 and 2014. The team drew 125,000 fans in its first year and now averages between 4,000 and 6,000 fans a game – not bad when you consider that two major-league teams reside in nearby Chicago.

“As far as baseball goes, we don’t necessarily see the Cubs and White Sox as competition,” says Murphy Row, the Boomers’ director of entertainment. “In the summer, Chicago is a baseball town. When the Cubs and Sox do well, that creates more interest in baseball.”

Through partnerships with businesses, schools and nonprofits, the Boomers are equally proud of their work off the field.

“We offer affordable, fan-friendly entertainment,” Row says. “The kids love the mascot and families love the experience of sitting real close and meeting the players. We’ve been embraced by the community and we love Schaumburg. It’s been a great fit.”

Celebrating History

This year marks the 60th anniversary of Schaumburg’s incorporation. As it always has, Schaumburg continues to grow. Economic development chief Frank expects to see the completion of tollway projects this year and says five new hotels are either in the works or in discussion. And, more restaurants will debut, including Kouzina Greek Kitchen & Bar, Giordano’s and Walker Bros.

Zurich North America also is expected to complete its relocation to a new 750,000 square-foot building on the Motorola Solutions campus along I-90. The new building was designed to be environmentally sustainable and is the largest build-to-suit office project in the U.S. “That will have a huge economic impact on that campus and hopefully spur additional investments on the Motorola property,” says Frank.

Dave Parulo has been the president of Meet with Chicago Northwest since 2007. Prior to moving to Chicagoland, he lived in six cities. He ranks Schaumburg right at the top. “Schaumburg has strong Midwest values. It’s well-maintained, modern and cosmopolitan,” he says. “It’s a great place to live.”