Business

U-Haul looks at converting Lindale Mall's vacant Sears into storage space

U-Haul rentals are parked outside the former Younkers at Westdale Mall, which now holds the self-storage business. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
U-Haul rentals are parked outside the former Younkers at Westdale Mall, which now holds the self-storage business. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — U-Haul soon could take up residence at one of the vacant big-box stores at Lindale Mall in Cedar Rapids.

City staff on Tuesday began reviewing a concept plan from Robert Hampton, president of U-Haul of Eastern Iowa, depicting 140,000 square feet of storage space inside Lindale’s empty Sears building, with equipment shunting space in the parking lot.

The proposal resembles other venues U-Haul has carried out under its adaptive reuse program, in which the Phoenix, Ariz.-based moving and storage company renovates and reuses existing buildings.

One existing building was the vacant former Younkers at Westdale Mall, where U-Haul opened an 100,000-square-foot branch store in April.

Sears shut its doors at Lindale Mall — its last store in Cedar Rapids and the Corridor area — in summer 2018.

The building’s owner, Seritage Growth Properties of New York City, has said in filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it hopes to re-lease its existing vacant spaces nationwide to “diversified, non-Sears tenants,” focusing on “growing national retailers.”

In an email Thursday, U-Haul spokesman Sebastien Reyes told The Gazette, “This early discussion with the city was a preliminary step for a potential future acquisition. U-Haul is appreciative of the willingness from Seritage and the city to consider our proposal.”

Some specifics regarding U-Haul’s proposal remain unclear.

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Through a U-Haul spokesperson, Hampton declined to comment on the project, including on how many storage spaces it could entail.

The company’s store at Westdale Mall — which Hampton also oversees — has around 850 spaces on two levels, in a smaller building footprint.

The proposed U-Haul venue at Lindale does appear to represent a change in prospective tenants for the vacant Sears.

In its federally filed annual 2018 report, Seritage — representatives of which did not return requests for comment Wednesday — listed Planet Fitness as a lone “significant tenant” for the building, including leases signed but not open as of the year’s end.

A site plan on Seritage’s website also lists Planet Fitness as the only named occupant for one of eight subdivided spaces.

In an email Wednesday, however, a Planet Fitness spokesperson said, “We do not have plans for a location there at this time.”

Also unclear is whether the former Sears site will change hands, with a different property owner.

Earlier this year, Cushman and Wakefield Iowa Commercial Advisors had the former Sears property listed for sale online, with a schematic showing a buyer could subdivide the building into up to nine smaller spaces. The real estate company’s website no longer includes that listing.

Brokers for the property did not return requests for comment Wednesday, including as to whether a prospective buyer had stepped forward.

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Amerco Real Estate Co., a subsidiary of U-Haul’s parent company, bought Westdale Mall’s former Younkers property for $3.8 million in May, property records show.

Parent company Amerco invested $423 million in real estate acquisitions, new construction, renovation and major repairs during the first six months of 2019, according to its latest quarterly filing.

The company owned 471,000 self-storage units as of Sept. 30, compared with 398,000 at the same point in 2018.

Also at Lindale Mall, a yet-to-be-disclosed retailer has signed a letter of intent to take over the Younkers space, which closed in August 2018.

Federal filings for Washington Prime Group, which owns the remainder of the mall, show that as of late October, the company was in “active planning” for “retail concepts” to fill the space.

Comments: (319) 398-8366; thomas.friestad@thegazette.com

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