Mixed uses imagined, city’s TIF involvement to be determined

By Sarah Binder

CEDAR RAPIDS—Westdale Mall came under new ownership during the first moments of the new year, but details surrounding the future of the 72 acres, including what the city of Cedar Rapids’ involvement will be, are still in the works.

After a long negotiation process, an investor group led by Scott Byers purchased the mall for an undisclosed amount. The group, known as A. Shapiro LLC, includes Mr. Byers, Craig Byers and Mike Quagliano.

At the same time, Frew Development Group began managing and operating the property through a long-term lease with the investor group.

“We’ve been on-again, off-again multiple times trying to get this deal,” said Todd Nelson, who was recently promoted to executive vice president of Frew Development. “All the details finally just came together the way they needed to all along.”

Frew Development is based in Denver, but has an established presence in the Corridor as the developer of the U.S. Cellular Center and DoubleTree by Hilton hotel in downtown Cedar Rapids. Another Cedar Rapids-based member of the Frew team, Kathleen Kennedy, was promoted from executive assistant to development director and will relocate to Westdale Mall to manage tenant relationships.

On Dec. 18, the Cedar Rapids City Council passed a resolution expressing support for the project and declared the area an urban revitalization area, the first step to establishing a TIF (tax increment financing) district. However, Brad Larson, a planner for the city, said the city’s exact involvement will not be determined until Frew Development presents a master plan.

Frew Development is expected to invest no less than $90 million in construction in the project between 2013-2022. Other conditions include creating covenants above and beyond design standards, including pedestrian trails to connect to adjacent neighborhoods, establishing a fund for maintenance of the property far into the future, establishing a single entity to manage the entire property and raising the assessed value of the site to a minimum amount.

In return, the city will provide the tax increment revenue associated with a TIF district.

“In Iowa, TIFs are how cities usually do economic development,” Mr. Larson said. “In this case, it’s the perfect tool, because Westdale Mall is a large and complex site.”

A mixed-use master plan

“We want people to work here, eat here, live here, play here – the whole nine yards – we want this to be a destination,” Mr. Nelson said.

Changes to the landscape of the mall are expected to begin this spring, with the demolition of one of the four anchor spaces, formerly home to Montgomery Ward. Mr. Nelson predicted that the remaining anchor spaces – a JC Penney, Younkers and the vacant Von Maur space – will remain, but much of the rest of the mall could eventually be green space. Currently, 70 percent of the in-line storefronts in the mall are vacant.

“This type of a mall, converting from a traditional in-line mall, is becoming very popular across the country,” he said.

New retail spaces will likely pop up around the exterior of the site, where some pads are ready to build a stand-alone building. The remaining spaces will be filled with high-end condos or apartments and mixed-use buildings that could include retail, office and residential space.

Craig Byers, a representative for A. Shapiro LLC (and son of Scott Byers, nephew of Craig Byers), said that Scott Byers is working with Frew Development on the master plan. He said they are also considering the possibilities of including a hotel, senior housing, entertainment options and green spaces.

He said a recurring theme in their discussions has been the question of, “what will motivate people to get out of their cars?”

“Westdale has been such an eyesore on the community, they saw an opportunity to redevelop an old regional mall,” he said. “I can’t remember the last time that mall was really thriving.”

Before the master plan can be presented, however, Mr. Nelson said they are trying to give due diligence to all those who could be impacted by the redevelopment. Current tenants of the mall have leases ranging from month-to-month up to three years. Mr. Nelson said they hope to retain as many tenants as possible, and that meetings with the tenants over the past weeks have gone well.

“There’s some angst I think, but they recognize that something needs to happen.”

The 72-acre, 451,092-square-foot mall on Cedar Rapids’ southwest side opened in 1979. In 2012, the assessed value of the property was lowered to $1.37 million, according to the Cedar Rapids assessor’s site.