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               WESTDALE MALL: CEDAR RAPIDS, IA

Jason Hancock's Commentary

Posted March 24, 2007 (user submitted)

I lived in Cedar Rapids for two years (2000-2002) and frequently visited Westdale Mall during the time I lived there. While Westdale has slowly declined in recent years, recent events regarding an anchor closing and its ownership situation have finally prompted me to call it a "dead mall".

A little background: Westdale Mall is an 850,000-square foot, two-level mall on the southwest side of Cedar Rapids that opened October 4, 1979. Montgomery Ward and JCPenney were the first two anchors to open, with Younkers and Petersen Harned Von Maur coming in 1980. (The fourth anchor was supposed to have been Brandeis, a chain out of Omaha that Younkers eventually bought out, but Brandeis backed out before they were scheduled to open and Von Maur replaced it.) The outparcel buildings included an Econofoods supermarket and a 4-screen movie theater. This was the first enclosed mall in Cedar Rapids but not the first shopping center with department stores -- Lindale Plaza on the northeast side predated Westdale by 19 years. But Lindale Plaza became the enclosed Lindale Mall shortly after Westdale opened. I remember little about my first trip to Westdale as an 11-year-old on Valentine's Day 1987, except that this may have been the first time I was in a two-level mall. I wouldn't go back there until I was in college at the University of Iowa in the late 1990s. By then Coral Ridge Mall had opened 20 miles away in Coralville, luring many shoppers from areas to the west and south of Cedar Rapids, but Westdale still didn't have as many vacancies as it does now. Wal-Mart SuperCenter, SuperTarget, and Menards also opened big-box stores in the area around Westdale at the time.

In 2000, the year I moved to Cedar Rapids, Econofoods left for a new store in a new strip mall north of Westdale (that store is empty now as Econofoods left the area altogether in late 2006), and the theaters closed after Carmike Cinemas built a bigger multiplex across the street. Then, after Christmas, Montgomery Ward announced that they were going out of business. The store closed in March 2001, and Wards owned its store, making it harder for Westdale's management to find a new anchor. On top of that, Wards' sign remained up for at least three years after that. I started noticing more store vacancies with each visit to Westdale after Wards closed.

The Rouse Company sold Westdale to the Festival Companies, a company out of Los Angeles, in late 2004. Festival then announced plans for a $20 million renovation that included expansion of the mall and construction of a new food court that the mall still lacks to this day. But the only noticeable change, aside from adding new signs in the parking lot to aid customers, was finally filling the Montgomery Ward anchor space with a Steve & Barry's in November 2005. Despite that, the exodus of tenants continued. The old Econofoods was replaced by a Big Lots shortly after Econofoods moved, but Big Lots closed in early 2006 and that building remains vacant. Another blow came in early July when Osco Drug announced that it was closing at Westdale. Osco was bought out by CVS in mid-2006 and converted most of its eastern Iowa stores, including the one at Old Capitol Mall in Iowa City, to CVS/pharmacy stores, but Westdale wasn't one of them. Some of the other stores that have closed at Westdale in the last few years include Baskin-Robbins, the Gap, Helzberg Diamonds, KB Toys, Suncoast Motion Picture Company, Sam Goody, and Spencer Gifts. I counted about 40 empty storefronts during a walkthrough in June 2006, with many of them being in the upper level between JCPenney and the center court -- kind of like what Old Capitol Mall was like a few years ago before the University of Iowa began renting most of the upper level. By contrast, Lindale Mall was in a lot better shape.

In November 2006, a part-owner of Westdale Mall fell behind in mortgage payments to a Chicago-based bank. Westdale was then placed in receivership, with the local Heritage Property Management becoming manager of Westdale. Heritage then contracted with General Growth Properties, owner of Coral Ridge Mall, to handle the leasing duties. GGP has a mountain to climb, though. In January 2007, shortly after Waldenbooks opted not to renew its lease at Westdale, Von Maur announced that it was closing its Westdale store at the end of the month and transferring its employees to its other Cedar Rapids store at Lindale Mall or its Iowa City store at Sycamore Mall. So now Westdale is going to be without an anchor for the second time in its history.

The tenant list on Westdale's website (shopwestdale.com) appears to be about a year out of date but General Growth's leasing profile ( http://www.ggp.com/properties/MallTenantList.asp?smuid=855&hidecat=1) lists only about 50 stores as of January 2007. Several national chains are still around, including Bath & Body Works, Eddie Bauer, Foot Locker, LensCrafters, and RadioShack. Two of its original anchors, JCPenney and Younkers, are still open, while Steve & Barry's occupies Montgomery Ward's old space. The handful of restaurants at Westdale -- Bishop's Buffet, Maid-Rite, Chick-Fil-A, and a few others -- are scattered throughout the mall; in recent years, a "restaurant row" has emerged along Edgewood Road east of Westdale with Applebee's, Carlos O'Kelly's, Culver's, IHOP, Texas Roadhouse, Wendy's, and a few others. One tenant that may be considered unusual is a branch of the Cedar Rapids Public Library, but from my understanding the library was there before the mall began its decline. Given all that's happened in the last several years, it's going to take a lot of work for Westdale to bounce back.










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