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What's Happening To The Huge River North Sports Authority?

 Real estate pros agree the eight-floor Sports Authority at LaSalle and Ontario has a great location, but its future is less clear.
Real estate pros agree the eight-floor Sports Authority at LaSalle and Ontario has a great location, but its future is less clear.
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DNAinfo/David Matthews

RIVER NORTH — What's in store for the massive Sports Authority in River North? 

Not another retailer. 

With Sports Authority moving to close all its stores, shoppers are hoping to cash in on clearance sales across the country in the coming weeks. 

But real estate observers here are more curious about the long-term future of the store at 620 N. LaSalle St., an 8-story building that's been selling sporting goods for decades. It also sits on a busy corner in one of the most attractive neighborhoods to developers. 

"All you can do is look around at all the cranes in River North," said Gail Lissner, vice president at Chicago-based real estate consultant Appraisal Research Counselors. "There will be a lot of people salivating over this site."

David Matthews talks about options for the Sports Authority building.

The building at LaSalle and Ontario streets was once home to Mages Sporting Goods, which billed itself as the largest sporting goods store in the world. Led by Morrie Mages, the store planted the handprints of star athletes such as Walter Payton and Bobby Hull on its facade for years until Mages sold his business to MC Sports in 1987. The building interestingly remained a sporting goods store since. 

But with Sports Authority moving out — and the Internet continuing to batter brick-and-mortar stores — finding another retailer willing to occupy eight floors in its place would be tough today, said developer Steven Fifield of Chicago-based Fifield Cos. Given the building's proximity to the Loop, Red Line and the neighborhood's nightlife, though, the big Sports Authority could easily find new life as something else. 

"It's an attractive site and will definitely draw a fair amount of interest," said Fifield, who hasn't yet pursued a bid. 

Other places nearby, including Ed Debevic's and the former River North Gino's East, have been razed recently to make way for new high-rise towers. But because of its size, the big Sports Authority might be more successful if it's converted into a hotel, offices or apartments instead, Fifield said. 

The store would be a "10" location for a hotel or new office space, and more of an "8" for residential because it sits on a noisy Downtown corner, Fifield said. 

Sports Authority is moving to close all of its stores after filing for bankruptcy protection earlier this year, and already closed its store in Water Tower Place. A spokeswoman for the Englewood, Colo.-based chain declined to comment beyond the company's bankruptcy filings, and staff at the River North store said they have yet to begin clearance sales or determine a closing date. Sports Authority owns the site at LaSalle and Ontario, property records show. 

The "Today" show reported Tuesday that liquidation sales will start as soon as this weekend and last through August. 

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