Charge of cheesecake angst leaves me frosted

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Let the record show I don’t give a rip if Cedar Rapids ever becomes home to a Cheesecake Factory. No offense, factory fans.

Apparently, last Tuesday’s column gave one local development leader the impression I’m filled with “angst” over the fact that the famous purveyor of cheesecake is not among retailers so far locating at the Westdale development.

Interim Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance President and CEO Doug Neumann tweeted as much while I sat minding my own business at a City Council meeting.

Normally, my skin’s pretty thick. But this frosted me. After all the pieces I’d written over the years extolling the virtues of local joints, bars, restaurants, etc., in particular after the flood when so many were hanging by a thread, I never expected to become a whipped-cream whipping boy for chain cheesecake.

I never figured I’d be painted as someone who doesn’t appreciate local establishments. I had been thinking local, or so I thought.

I pointed this out in a brief tweet exchange.

Again with the angst. With each “like” his original shot got, I became a little less sweet, a little more salty.

I mentioned the Cheesecake Factory in that column, and something called Nordstrom Rack, because they were mentioned in George Ford’s piece on lowered expectations for the Westdale development. A couple of years ago, the development was seen as a potential magnet for new retail, including the sort of “high-end” stores and eateries that some folks say they want here. Now, less so.

That’s in no small part because American retail is retrenching in the face of big technological and economic changes. Recruitment for Westdale has proved difficult. I said that’s disappointing.

But it’s not disappointing because we’re not getting pricey cheesecake. It’s because public funds, incentives, a loan guarantee and high expectations have been invested in this project. Now, it’s unclear what taxpayers will get for that backing. I hope its prospects improve, and not because I’m angst-ridden. Maybe local joints will be a part of it.

As far as angst about what we don’t have, I didn’t vote to spend $150,000 to hire Texas-based retail consultant Buxton to help Cedar Rapids recruit new retail. That was the Cedar Rapids City Council, in February 2015. Mayor Ron Corbett named retail recruitment as one of the city’s top five priorities during his 2015 State of the City speech.

City officials have been traveling annually to Las Vegas for RECon, the International Council of Shopping Centers global convention, to meet with and recruit retail prospects. That makes sense, considering how the city’s plans for street repairs and flood protection rest heavily on retail sales tax growth.

But anyone concerned about undue angst should take those concerns to city officials. Maybe add a hashtag.

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