CEDAR RAPIDS — Soon, people could be rolling out of bed and into the Westdale Mall.
A proposed four-story, 56,904-square-foot mixed use building with 33 living units on the upper floors provides a counterpunch to recent news anchor tenant Younkers department store plans to close. The new building would go just west of Tru by Hilton hotel, which is being constructed along Williams Boulevard SW on the north side of the Westdale property.
“I think the announcement for the housing addition shows momentum is continuing,” said Lisa Rowe, general manager of Westdale. “We are continuing to build, continuing to move, and continuing to develop.”
The housing component has been discussed off and on as developers continue a $90 million revitalization to turn the rundown, 1979-built traditional shopping mall into a hybrid of retail, dining and living. Work began in 2014.
The on-site hotel, which could open in the next few days, is a prime example of the new approach, although developers abandoned earlier concepts for more of a parklike environment.
Details about the housing plans surfaced in the agenda packet for the Cedar Rapids City Council meeting on Tuesday. The City Council approved a request from Westdale CR Ventures #14, LLC, which is made up of mall investors, to support an application for workforce housing tax credits to the Iowa Economic Development Authority.
As part of the request, Westdale laid out the framework of the $8 million project, of which $6.8 million is tied to the housing component. The plan includes six one-bedroom apartments, 27 two-bedroom apartments, and 14,226 square feet of retail space on the first floor. The apartments would rent for market rates, likely at $1 to $1.20 per square foot, Rowe said.
The hope is to begin construction in the spring or summer and finish within a year of starting, she said.
Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart said the housing plan “makes sense” and council member Ashley Vanorny, whose district includes Westdale, said she’d heard of the housing plans and is “glad they are making progress on getting it underway.” She hopes the new element would help attract new people.
City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said retail environments with more diversity have proved popular among younger residents.
“This shows Westdale is flexible and is able to provide a modern retail environment,” he said.
Rowe said she thinks the housing concept is a good addition because of the need for housing closer to employers in the southwest part of Cedar Rapids. It provides convenience and a good location, she said.
“We’ve always looked at this as a live-work-play, mixed-use project,” she said. “And, there’s definitely a need for workforce housing in this area.”
Rowe said officials had been bracing for changes at Younkers, and said the closure could create an opportunity. They will likely subdivide the space after Younkers closes at some point this year, and interest is already there for establishments to take its place, she said.
Because the city has already provided tax incentives to Westdale, the apartment developer is not seeking additional local tax dollars to match tax credits they might get from the state. Cedar Rapids often provides the required local match when developers seek state or federal tax credits.
In 2013, the City Council and developers agreed to public incentives worth an estimated $24 million over 14 years, in the form of tax increment financing, of which the city would recoup $7 million for fronting some costs, The Gazette has reported. The city also guaranteed $11.5 million worth of loans.
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