CEDAR RAPIDS — Driving around large earth movers and dump trucks, John Frew gazed out of his rental car at a flurry of construction and demolition activity Wednesday afternoon at Westdale Mall.
“This is a 14-phase project stretching out over the next two years,” said Frew, president of Frew Development Group in Denver, Colo., which is overseeing a $90 million redevelopment of the property.
“The bulk of the work that people will see will occur next year,” Frew said. “The first phase will take care of all horizontal construction — the underground utilities, light poles, parking lot, landscaping, demolition of the mall and repair of the three buildings (JCPenney, Younkers and the former Von Maur department store) that will remain.
“The second phase will involve all the vertical construction of new buildings over the next five or six years.”
On a driving tour of the 72-acre site, Frew outlined what needed to happen before new buildings can begin to rise as early as next month.
“The work that people see out along Edgewood Road involves preparation of the initial pads as well as the underground utilities,” he noted. “Over the years since the mall was built, all the utilities followed Edgewood Road, which is a city street as opposed to Williams Boulevard, which is a state highway.”
Frew said stormwater will be channeled through underground pipes to a culvert that will take it under Edgewood Road SW to a detention basin between Farmers State Bank and Wendy’s. The stormwater detention basin along Wiley Boulevard will be deepened, and the parking lot will be raised to level it and eliminate pounding that has occurred after a heavy rain.
“All of the underground stormwater changes will allow us to fill in detention basins along Edgewood Road and at the corner with 29th Street SW,” Frew explained.
Two buildings will stand at the corner.
The underground utilities and site preparation work for the Chick-fil-A restaurant and U.S. Bank building have been completed. He said construction of the two buildings could begin as early as next month.
“We have poured the entry off Edgewood Road for a new ring road,” Frew said. “There will be three roads that will go into mall. One will run past Younkers and do a big loop back to the ring road. Another road will angle through the middle of what has been the center of the mall.
“The third road will curve around J.C. Penney and into the remainder of the ring road.”
Frew said the parking lot next to the mall on the Edgewood Road side is being lowered by about 15 to 17 feet to bring it level with the ring road.
“We’re moving a massive amount of dirt and using it to fill in the detention basins,” he said. “When Westdale was built, that side of the property was raised to create second-floor entrances to the mall and the anchor stores.”
Frew said the former mall entrances to the three anchor buildings will be sealed for the winter. The remainder of the mall will be demolished by Dec. 31.
“Next spring, we will complete repairs to the JCPenney, Younkers and former Von Maur buildings,” Frew said. “The JCPenney building has been designed for a whole new look with two new entrances.
“J.C. Penney is completely redoing the inside of its store with a scheduled completion of Aug. 1, 2015, for a back-to-school promotion.”
Frew recalled two near misses in efforts to lease the vacant Von Maur building.
“We spent a long time working with Ann Lipsky (president of Smulekoff’s Home Store) and her group to get Smulekoff’s out here,” he said. “We really wish we could have Smulekoff’s here, but she made a good decision.”
Smulekoff’s will close its downtown store Nov. 28, and Lipsky has accepted a $4.7 million offer from the city for the building.
Frew said Seattle-based Nordstrom, which operates a fulfillment center in southwest Cedar Rapids, came close to leasing the top floor of the Von Maur building for a similar facility.
“Nordstrom bought a company called the Trunk Club for $240 million,” Frew said. “Cedar Rapids was an option for a fulfillment center along with Chicago and Philadelphia.
“Just last week the company decided to stay in Chicago. The fulfillment center would have created 400 jobs.”
Lisa Rowe, vice president of Frew Development Group and Westdale general manager, expressed confidence that a tenant for the Von Maur building will be announced soon.
“We’ve had several meetings with a national retailer that would be new to the market for 60,000-square-feet of that space,” Rowe said. “That would be all of the second floor and part of the first floor.”
Frew said the developer that purchased four of the seven development pads along Edgewood Road plans to construct 25,000-square-foot “junior anchor” buildings for multiple tenants.
Plans for a hotel and senior housing remain on track, according to Frew.
“We will have a five-story condo building near JCPenney,” he said. “The first floor facing Edgewood Road will be retail, the second floor will be parking and the top three floors will be living quarters.”