Frew says Westdale redevelopment to begin with Wards demolition this spring

Developer says he's been working on deal for 11 months

The former Montgomery Ward store at Westdale Mall in Cedar Rapids, as seen in December 2000. (Gazette file photo)
The former Montgomery Ward store at Westdale Mall in Cedar Rapids, as seen in December 2000. (Gazette file photo)

John Frew on Thursday said he never figured on running a mall.

"Can you believe it?" said Frew, whose company is now responsible for managing and eventually transforming the long-troubled Westdale Mall. "All my kids want to know is whether or not there is a Jamba Juice in there yet."

There wonít be any time soon.

Frew confirmed that Cedar Rapids developer and Realtor Scott Byers now has closed on the purchase of Westdale Mall and that Byers and his partners took possession of the 72-acre property at 12:01 a.m. on New Yearís Day. Simultaneously, Frew signed a "long-term, long-term" land lease on the property with the Byers group in an arrangement that gives Frew all rights to and responsibilities for the property, its tenants and its future with permission "to do pretty much as we please," Frew said.

Frew had been trying for eleven months, he said, to help put together a purchase and redevelopment plan for the half-empty mall, which opened in 1979. All the planning now has given him "a running head start" on the mallís transformation, he said.

"As of 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1, if there was a blizzard that night, we were prepared to have the walks shoveled," Frew said. "If there was a medical emergency that day, we were prepared to deal with it. We were ready as of that moment."

Craig Byers, a Realtor in Cedar Rapids and the son of Scott Byers, on Thursday said his father, his uncle, Craig Byers, and associate Mike Quagliano closed on the purchase of the mall property by the end of 2012 as an entity called A. Shapiro LLC. The entity is named in honor of Andy Shapiro, who had worked with Scott Byers on a past development project, Byersí son said. Scott Byers, his brother, Craig, and Quagliano joined together to create the Marketplace on 1st development across from Lindale Mall, though Quagliano is no longer part of that ownership group, Craig Byers said.

Frew, president/CEO of Frew Development Group, will manage and redevelop the Westdale property under the name Westdale CR Ventures #1 LLC.

Frew said the mallís current mall management staff will run the mall for his company while Todd Nelson, executive vice president at Frew Development Group, will work as project manager at Westdale for Frew Development Group.

For now, tenants and patrons at the mall wonít notice any changes.

Frew said he has sent letters of introduction to each of the mallís tenants and he said he and Nelson will visit personally with tenants next week.

Frew said about 30 of the mallís 100-plus storefronts are occupied, but only nine tenants ó including anchors J.C. Penneyís and Younkers ó have leases in place for set periods of time.

"Surprisingly few," he said of how few businesses in the mall have obligations and so canít leave tomorrow if they choose. "Thatís how fragile this whole facility is. Thatís why we were able to make this happen."

Frew ó who is based in Denver, Colo., and has become well known in Cedar Rapids as the project manager for the cityís downtown convention complex and hotel projects ó has said he intends to redevelop the mall property in similar fashion to way Southglenn Mall in the Denver area has become The Streets of SouthGlenn. To make that happen, he has said he will demolish most of Westdale Mall, keeping three of the mallís four anchor spaces in place. From there he plans to build a "multiuse destination" and neighborhood of housing, offices, stores, restaurants, a park and a hotel around the anchors. It might be called simply Westdale, he has said.

Frew said the first change at the mall should occur this spring when the plan is to demolish the anchor space which once was home to a Wards store.

In his upcoming discussions with tenants, he said he will be assessing which tenants have an interest down the road in staying on the property. Some group of the current tenants could become tenants in the first new building built on the property in the future, he said.

Two weeks ago, the City Council agreed to provide local financial incentives for the Westdale project in exchange for Frewís commitment to invest at least $90 million between 2013 and 2022 in the property.

The mallís two previous owners were Tremont Capital Corp. of Oak Park, Ill., which owned most of the mall, and City Gate LP, Arcadia, Calif., which owned the anchor space that once housed the Wards store before it left the mall in 2001.

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