Sycamore Mall to be rebranded as Iowa City Marketplace


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While a number of store closings have come to the forefront, a number of Iowa City community members have long maintained their opinions on one East Side shopping center.

While “dated,” “dead,” and “desolate” may have come to the minds of many in the past, officials with Sycamore Mall appear to be developing a clearer vision regarding its future.

The more than 40-year-old mall near the intersection of Sycamore Street and Highway 6 has been no stranger to store departures in the past several years, notably anchor store Von Maur.

On Tuesday, one Iowa City-based architectural design released preliminary designs for its redevelopment.

In a Tuesday press release, mall management company Core Realty Holdings and Shive-Hattery announced the rebranding of the center and its new name: Iowa City Marketplace.

“This is a great opportunity to incorporate new national trends in the commercial market into Iowa City, and Sycamore Mall is proving to be a great place to start,” Mark Seabold, a Shive-Hattery architect, said in the release. “The mall has seen its share of vacancies in recent months, but this rebranding will open the area up to greater possibilities while synergizing with its established tenants.”

Tuesday’s news comes in light of a July 11 announcement by Core and Sycamore Mall officials of a Von Maur departure agreement.

In a Tuesday phone interview, Seabold said the scheduled redevelopment completion is dependent on what tenants occupy the space. Total investment cost, he said, is too early to tell.

“I do know, John and Core Realty Holdings are positioned to make some significant investment into the property to make it succeed,” he said.

Large-scale enhancements to the mall will occur in phases will result in the new concept serving an array of uses, officials say.

A new exterior plaza at the former main entrance will come about with the removal of leased space and will be one example of providing interior and exterior areas for social gathering.

Core Realty Holdings Vice President John Arlotti said talks with a number of specialty stores, food users, and others to date, have returned “good responses.”

“I just can’t even tell you the response from retailers,” he said. “It’s been so positive.”

The issue of having large spaces sitting vacant and filling them is not an exclusive problem to Iowa City, he maintained.

The concept — an open flow, multiuse design — is not exclusive to the Iowa City market. Mirroring national trends found in states such as Arizona, California, Texas, and Illinois, several Iowa communities have followed the often lofty and pricey commercial idea recently.

Citing a lack of family-friendly cohesive spaces, Kirk Cheyney, Fab Lab director of operations, called the project what the East Side of Iowa City and what all of Iowa City needs, calling for more restaurants, an art gallery, wine bar, and more.

“The more small curiosity shops and less corporate sameness goes to the area, the better I think it can be …” he said.

Cheyney is still in negotiations with mall officials on the amount of space to occupy after all is said and done.

Many centers transform the current structure into a social space by converging dining, entertainment and mixed-use areas together.

For example, Des Moines’ once long-struggling Southridge Mall continues to see redevelopment and reconstruction and now includes several new retail stores, a synthetic ice skating center, and a branch for Des Moines Area Community College.

Pending corporate approval, Aleshia Chiesa, Southridge Mall marketing manager, declined to comment on that center’s current vitality and sales numbers following the multi-million renovation.

In the case of the Iowa City Marketplace, the hope, development officials say, is to create a free flowing environment that engages the visitors in a meaningful way. Negotiations are currently underway with potential tenants that share in these same ideals, the release said.

“By researching many different tenant concepts from schools to grocery to fabrication studios, the thought is to create a variety of reasons to visit the Iowa City Marketplace and provide something very different from the other retail experiences in the local area,” Seabold said.

Geoff Fruin, assistant to the city manager, said the investment signifies a positive step forward for the area as a whole, adding that financial assistance from the city — such as in tax increment financing — has not yet been determined.

The model can be a successful example for Iowa City, but only if the tenant mix and renovations are high quality.

And in regards to on-going efforts at redeveloping the Towncrest area — another once-blighted East Side district on the verge of re-use, he said the goal is to see both coexist and balance off each other.

“Retail trends are constantly changing and evolving; that’s been taking shape across the country. You’ve seen a lot of the old traditional mall spaces like Sycamore reinvent themselves in terms of rehabbing shopping centers,” he said.

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