Developer Unveils Plans For Cedar Rapids Westdale Mall

By Chelsea Keenan and Chris Earl, Reporters

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Developers behind Westdale Mall's revitalization released master plans and renderings Wednesday that show a modern outdoor retail area and green space.

Frew Development Group, the city's project manager on the U.S. Cellular Center and DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, is overseeing the $90 million redevelopment project. It plans to turn the 33-year-old mall into an open-air area with a pedestrian plaza consisting of retail, restaurants and a 1.7-acre park.

Plans include the addition of office space, a hotel, entertainment options, senior living housing and condos, and possibly even an amphitheater.

The plans will go before Cedar Rapids City Council next week. If approved, developers hope to start construction in July, said Lisa Rowe, who was appointed the mall's general manager just this week.

The project has a 10-year timeline, but Rowe said project leaders plan to have the majority of the redevelopment complete in five years by being "as aggressive as possible."

Plans call for tearing down about half of the mall, including the Montgomery Ward space. The two other anchor stores — J.C. Penney's and Younkers — and the former Von Maur site will remain in place.

Several of the mall's smaller tenants will move into the Von Maur building, which will be turned into a market-style area, Rowe said. The two-story building will house retail and a common area on the first floor and a salon, with a restaurant and office space on the second floor.

Retailers will stay in their stores through the Christmas shopping season and move into the Von Maur space come January. Rowe said Frew Development has spoken with tenants, and many have expressed interest in remaining at Westdale, but nothing has been finalized.

The owner of a gift shop said she is excited about the move.

"It's good the mall will stay open for the Christmas season and into the next year before the big move," said Mary Santana, owner of Mug Shots. "As far as going into the Von Maur space, we haven't seen yet where we are going to go."

Efforts are also in the works to attract new tenants as the mall is only about 40 percent occupied, Rowe noted. Developers have hired local brokerage firm Gibbs Lamb Drown and national group David, Hicks & Lampert Brokerage to "put feelers out there" and gauge interest, she said.

"They have a hit list of hundreds of retailers we'd like to see here," she added.

Once the initial construction is completed, infrastructure improvements will begin.

Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett said revitalizing the mall benefits the entire community. In addition to improving the quality of life for Cedar Rapids residents, Westdale's redevelopment will create jobs and help property values.

Fifteen years ago, the mall's property valuation was about $25 million, Corbett said. Today it is about $7 million.

"There's just been a downward spiral of property valuation over the years," he said.

The city has offered Frew Development an incentive package of $5 million for project construction and another $5 million of tax increment financing revenue, according to the city manager's office.

The major element that would be seen in early 2014 would be the demolition of the "inside" of Westdale Mall, leaving one group - possibly the mall's most loyal visitors - needing another place to walk.

"In the summer time, it's nice to be here and I really enjoy this mall," said Janice Bruns, a woman who said she has been a "mall walker" at Westdale for nearly 15 years.
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