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Von Maur opens larger Coralville location in light of TIF debate

BY QUENTIN MISIAG | JULY 29, 2013 5:00 AM

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A single red rose and chocolate candy bars were among the many customer greeters during the grand opening celebration of a new department store Saturday, and several local and regional officials hope this is just the beginning.

After several months of legal jargon, political debate, and the heavy construction and a moving process from a smaller space, a new 80,000-square-foot Von Maur store at the city of Coralville’s Iowa River Landing is now open.

To date, the city of Coralville has offered the Davenport-based high-end retailer more than $9.5 million in tax increment financing to build in the redeveloping former industrial park.

The Von Maur debate, and other Iowa cases, has brought about recent TIF reform in the Iowa Legislature. The new law, which passed in 2012, has an “anti-piracy” provision that prevents a city from using TIF to get a company to relocate without permission from the company’’s current city.

The cities of Iowa City, North Liberty, and Coralville have now implemented a oral agreement that says city leaders will communicate with each other before a retailer relocates.

And while local business people, state lawmakers, and area residents have clamored about that economic-development tool, which was created to spur growth in blighted areas has been misused in the store’s move, Von Maur and Coralville officials don’t see it that way.

The Coralville store opening signals the end of the store’s decades-long Sycamore Mall location.

“We really like the location in terms of being right there on I-80, its very visible and accessible so our store can serve a greater population,” Von Maur President Jim von Maur said. “We were excited about the location, and that’s the primary reason for going there. I don’t have any control of what Coralville and Iowa City are doing in vying for that.”

Von Maur said that from a company standpoint, its Iowa locations have fared better than its locations in larger markets because the state doesn’t suffer from “boom and bust” economic periods.

Locally, he said, the area’s active lifestyle sets it apart from other markets with brands including Under Armour and the North Face bringing in strong sales numbers.

Typically, he said, the chain competes with the likes of Dillard’s, Younkers, and Nordstrom. But the Coralville location can also expect to see increased competition from Scheels and Active Endavors.

While the company plans no expansion or relocation of current Iowa stores, von Maur said, additional locations are expected to in the fall in Hoover, Ala., and Rochester, N.Y.

“I think its fun to see an Iowa company, especially in the fashion industry, growing and thriving,” he said. “It’s about growing steadily, striving to offer that good Midwestern service. Even if we go down South or in bigger cities. We’re going to give that good Iowa warmth.”

Despite the new store opening and recent years of continued retail development, Von Maur said, he believes the area is poised — and welcomes — additional high end retailers, calling the market “underserved.”

For Coralville Mayor Jim Fausett, the initial announcement of Von Maur opening in the town acted as a true catalyst.

“We knew when we first started to develop this area, we had to have that retail anchor,” he said. “Once we had Von Maur announced, other businesses that wouldn’t talk to us before, started talking.”

Still, he admits the area has been slow going in recent years, and future and once-planned aspects, such as an arena and additional hotel space are on the back burner.

Iowa natives Carl and Rogene Werner, now of Clovis, N.M., were on hand for the grand opening July 27 after visiting their daughter in Marengo, Iowa.

“I think it’s very nice, and it created a little controversy,” Carl Werner said. “But this store has a better layout.”

In a July 11 interview with the DI, newly appointed Sycamore Mall general manager Kerry Sanders said that although the center is disappointed in Von Maur’s departure, the mall is seeing increased interest with a newly released redevelopment project plan.

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

But for Von Maur Co-Chairman Charles von Maur, the tensions between Coralville and Iowa City should not steer customers away from the company’s long-standing customer-service standards.

“You can’t dwell on that,” he said about the departure from Sycamore Mall. “We hope it will be what the people of Iowa City and Coralville want and have been looking for.”


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