Westdale Mall transformation moving ahead

Cedar Rapids City Hall crafts incentive plan

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The planned transformation of the long-struggling Westdale Mall into a neighborhood of shops, offices, restaurants, housing and more -- announced in December -- is moving ahead. It starts with a City Hall redevelopment agreement, not the wrecking ball.

On Tuesday, the City Council is slated to approve an ordinance that will allow the future incremental increase in property-tax revenue that comes from improvements in a 91-acre Westdale Urban Renewal Area to be set aside to help pay for some of the improvements. This use of property-tax revenue, called tax increment financing, is common in Iowa.

Two weeks, ago, the council approved an urban renewal plan and created the 92-acre Westdale Urban Renewal Area, both formal actions necessary to establish the collection of TIF revenue in the area.

These steps were endorsed by the City Council in December when Realtor Scott Byers announced that he had bought the mall and developer John Frew said he would oversee a $90-million transformation project there between 2013 and 2022.

On Monday, Frew said his company, Frew Development Group, and the city will finalize a development agreement on the Westdale project in the next two months.

Among the first changes that the public will see on the Westdale site is the demolition of the former Wards store, which had been planned for May but may be pushed back until June, Frew said.

Frew’s plan calls for tearing much of the mall down except for the other three anchor stores, one now occupied by J.C. Penney’s and one by Younkers. The third, which used to house Von Maur, is vacant.

About 70 percent of the other store spaces in the mall currently are vacant, according to the city’s urban renewal plan.

Frew — who is based in Denver, Colo., and is the city’s project manager on its convention complex and hotel projects — has said he wants to transform what had been a mall into a "multiuse destination" with commercial, residential and office uses as well a park, trails and a hotel. It might simply be called Westdale, he has said.

As part of the plan, the City Council has said it will front $5 million to Frew to start work on the project with the $5 million to be recouped with the tax increment financing revenue.

The Westdale Urban Renewal Area may have the capacity to generate up to $25 million in incremental property-tax revenue in the first 12 years of redevelopment, according to the city’s urban renewal plan.

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