By Gigi Wood
CEDAR RAPIDS — A picture is worth a thousand words.
On May 8, Frew Development Group unveiled its master plan and drawings for the 72-acre Westdale Mall property, 2600 Edgewood Road SW. It’s no secret that the 34-year-old mall needs a facelift and that Frew plans to invest $90 million into the site. What was new last week was the renderings, which illustrate Frew’s more specific plans.
Frew Development plans to go before the Cedar Rapids City Council on May 14 to present its master plan and design renderings. On Dec. 18, the council passed a resolution expressing support for the project and declared the site an urban revitalization area, the first step to establishing a TIF (tax increment financing) district. The goal now is for the city and Frew to sign a development agreement.
“The meeting is more about how they’re (Frew is) going to lay the property out and some of the uses of the properties and making sure we have some say-so in the design, look and feel of the property,” said Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett. “Because it’s basically almost a 100 percent private sector (project), our development agreements vary depending on how much the city puts in. So, oftentimes, the more the city puts in, the lengthier those city agreements are. Like Penford; they were buying city land and they’re right next to where the flood protection is going to be, so we made them agree to some things that, if they already owned the land, they probably wouldn’t have needed to have a developer’s agreement with the city.”
This week, the council will discuss the TIF in more detail.
“We’ve already been through some of the preliminary discussions with the TIF and the city (will likely) be putting in money for the infrastructure, which is the ring road around the perimeter of the mall property,” he said. “We’ve been going back-and-forth on the length of the TIF, minimum assessments, etc., and I think we’ve agreed on 12 years with a minimum assessment. It’s similar to the PCI (Physician’s Clinic of Iowa) project in a way, where we’re going to sell bonds up front, $5 million, to make all the road infrastructure improvements. Of course as the value of the property goes up, we use that new incremental tax help pay for the bonds. Sometimes, people say, ‘what happens if the value doesn’t go up as fast as you thought it was going to be, or takes a little bit longer or doesn’t go up, how are you going to make those bond payments?’ That’s where that minimum assessment comes in. That basically takes any risk out for the general taxpayer.”
Fifteen years ago, the site was worth $28 million; today it’s worth $7 million, Mr. Corbett said.
“This property has been on a downward spiral for the past 15 years and we want tax revenue and so do the other jurisdictions,” he said. “By getting this deal put together and having the private sector come in and kick in $90 million — I also think there is some value to having local ownership of the land — we’re going to get things turned around out there and increase value from the mall footprint.”
Surrounding development, including Highway 100 improvements and new Ladd Library as well as westside population growth, will help ensure the Westdale project’s success, Mr. Corbett said.
“We’ve already started to field calls from other developers for property around the mall that would like to talk to the city,” he said. “So it’s doing exactly what we thought would happen, that there would be a ripple effect of additional development.”
At the start of this year, the mall was bought by A. Shapiro LLC, an investor group that includes Scott Byers, Craig Byers and Mike Quagliano.
Scott Byers said because the proposed Westdale changes include adding more than just retail, he is confident about his investment.
“I have specialized in the last 10 years in retail-oriented development and it’s a speculative proposition, it just is,” he said. “So you measure the risk versus the potential and you have to make a decision, but you’re never 100 percent certain that it will work out. Now, this is mixed use and if it were pure retail, I’d be dubious of the ability to replace, for example, 900,000 square feet, which was the previous mall and anchor total. I don’t believe that’s achievable today.”
Potential uses for the site include about 30 percent retail, as well as restaurants, condominiums, a medical use and possibly senior housing. There could also be a hotel and entertainment venue.
“I think each one of those categories, there is enough market demand for the size that the Westdale complex will have designated for that type of use,” Mr. Byers said.
Frew Development Group manages Westdale Mall for the investor group. Frew is also the project manager on Cedar Rapids $84.5 million U.S. Cellular Center and $15 million adjacent parking ramp. The company plans to move quickly on the Westdale site.
“After we go to city council next week, the first thing you’re going to see as far as activity on the site, will be tearing down the Montgomery Ward space,” said Lisa Rowe, who started May 6 as Westdale’s general manager and liaison for the redevelopment. She spent the past 13 years as director of marketing and business development at Lindale Mall.
Next, the former Von Maur space will be converted into a pavilion.
“What it’s going to be is almost an enclosed mini mall,” she said. “It’s going to have a series of smaller shops in it. We’re also looking at relocating the mall offices to the upper level. We’re looking at a salon use and also hopefully a restaurant use on that top level with outdoor seating that will overlook the 1.7 acres open park we have in the center. Other things that are going to happen pretty quickly will be changing some of the grading on the property, as well as putting in new underground utilities. Once we hit 2014, hopefully those tenants that are staying will be relocated to Von Maur, early in 2014, and that will allow us to go ahead and tear down the rest of the mall. Younkers and (JC)Penneys will remain, though.”
In March, Frew launched a new website for the mall, www.westdalecr.com.