A redevelopment feasibility study conducted by business students at the University of Iowa recommends major structural changes for Westdale Mall in Cedar Rapids.
The students, enrolled in an advanced real estate course taught by John Gallo at the UI Tippie College of Business, studied several other declining malls in communities demographically similar to Cedar Rapids.
They determined that partial demolition and redevelopment as a lifestyle center is the best course for rejuvenating the 32-year-old retail center, which has declined to less than 50 percent occupancy.
“Our examination of representative Midwestern lifestyle centers confirms the popularity of the open-air/lifestyle centers that mix retail, residential, and office space interspersed by pedestrian walkways and open areas for public events,” the 18 students wrote in the report. “Our mall sample also demonstrates successful transformation from an enclosed mall structure like Westdale to the lifestyle center.”
The 37-page feasibility study, requested by Erik Wahl and Rao Yalamanchili of City Gate LP, Arcadia, Calif., owners of the former Montgomery Ward store at 2500 Edgewood Rd. SW, would appear to support an approach that a potential purchaser of Westdale is considering for the mall.
Willow Creek Ventures LLC, an investment group headed by John Frew of Cedar Rapids, has signed a purchase contract for Westdale. Frew has said that Williow Creek Ventures is considering a number of redevelopment scenarios, including demolition of portions of the mall and retention of J.C. Penney and Younkers as anchor tenants.
The UI business students cited Eden Prairie Center in Eden Prairie, Minn., and Randhurst Mall in Mt. Prospect, Ill., as examples of traditional malls constructed in the 1960s and 1970s that have been converted into lifestyle centers. Each has experienced dramatic growth in total sales since their conversion to lifestyle centers that include everything from residential and hotel space to large indoor play areas along with movie theaters and traditional retailers.
The report, which was presented to city officials and property developers earlier this month, recommended retaining as much physical infrastructure as possible at Westdale to reduce overall redevelopment costs.
Willow Creek Ventures is seeking a reduction of Westdale’s total assessed valuation from the current $19.4 million to $10.3 million.