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Sycamore Mall reaches agreement on Von Maur departure, redevelopment project planned

BY QUENTIN MISIAG | JULY 12, 2013 5:00 AM

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The loss of its largest and most prominent retail tenant has been a longtime coming for Iowa City’s Sycamore Mall.

Nearly two years to be exact.

But in the face of a projected July 27 grand opening of a new 80,000-square-foot store in Coralville’s Iowa River Landing, Iowa City’s oldest shopping center is eager to stay competitive and remain relevant.

But to do this, mall officials say a full-fledged redo is needed at the more than 40-year-old center.

In a Wednesday press release, mall management company Core Realty Holdings’ Vice President John Arlotti and mall general manager Kerry Sanders announced that the mall has reached an agreement on the Von Maur departure, and it will work with a local architectural design firm to bring new physical and tenant changes.

Iowa City-based Shive Hattery Architects will develop plans that will guide the transformation of the center in new ways while remaining true to its fundamental principles, the release said.

According to the release, the center, whose tenants include Petland, Panera, Dollar Store, Pizza Ranch, Ben Franklin, and Sycamore 12 Theaters, will see new tenants that will serve as a complement.

Arlotti said much of the existing tenants, including Shields Sewing Center, Claire’s, Style America, Radio Shack, Sally Beauty, Petland, Panera, Dollar Store, Pizza Ranch, Ben Franklin, and Sycamore 12 Theaters, will remain.

“Right now, retailers are doing well, and the retail market is on the upswing, so our timing is very good,” Arlotti said. “Three and four years ago, everybody was pretty much saying no. Now, it’s show me what you’ve got.”

To date, Arlotti said two to three conceptual plans are in the works to transform the mall, which currently is sitting at a approximately 90 percent occupancy rate but declined to specify what tenants could be a part of the new mix.

Talks are underway with local, regional, and national tenants to join the lineup, he said, while examination efforts of similar shopping centers in California, Texas, and Wisconsin will help determine project feasibility.

The announcement marks yet another round of changes to the eastern Iowa City shopping mall.

Wells Fargo Bank filed for foreclosure against CORE Sycamore Town Center in December 2012 for an outstanding payment of roughly $12 million, The Daily Iowan has previously reported.
In March, Sycamore Mall announced that it had reached a new financial agreement with Great Western Bank, successfully removing the foreclosure.

Davenport-based Von Maur announced in fall 2011 that it would relocate its Sycamore location.
A new deal on a “local, regional restaurant” in the mall’s Sycamore North building is expected to be announced soon, Arlotti said, adding that it will be located in proximity to Petland and Okoboji Grill.
A timeline of construction, conceptual planning and tenant announcements remain tentative at this time.

“Retail has to evolve, and we’re going to grow right along with it,” Sanders said.

For current mall tenants, however, the announcement is mixed.

Gregory Delzer, the owner of Defunct Books, said after relocating to the mall after being evicted from his downtown location in the former Red Avocado building, the business has yielded positive results.

Despite the success, however, he said remains unaware on how the project will affect his bottom line.

“I think it’s a necessity. I think this mall, for all intents and purposes, is a dying mall,” he said. “It definitely needs a complete, radical redevelopment. They can say they don’t want to push anybody out, but if they double the rent, that’s the same thing for us.”

Four Seasons President Katie Andrios said the Geneseo, Ill.-based women’s clothing boutique has seen increased sales and revenue figures over 2012 results and is awaiting the departure of Von Maur to reap the benefits of the being only women’s apparel and accessory retailer in the mall.

She said she welcomes an improved mall landscape with expanded retail options.

From the city’s perspective, the announcement only solidifies the marketing and development potential on the greater eastern Iowa City area.

Assistant to the City Manager Geoff Fruin said that although no discussions have been made with mall owners in offering funding, including tax increment financing, that could be a part of future negotiations.

“The broader First Avenue retail district, we think, there is great potential to grow the retail base there,” he said. “It’s imperative that you continually reinvent yourself and create a space that meets current demand.”


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