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Students Say Westdale Needs a Lifestyle Change

Westdale Mall needs a lifestyle change, according to University of Iowa bidness students. And not a small change, like switching cereal brands or taking a different route to work.

They’re talking demolition:

Business students at the University of Iowa working with the City of Cedar Rapids to revitalize Westdale Mall have recommended the structure be partially demolished and replaced with an open-air lifestyle center.

The students were in an Advanced Real Estate class offered by the Tippie College of Business during the spring semester and taught by John Gallo, a member of the college’s finance faculty. Their study examined the fates of several other declining malls in areas that are demographically similar to Cedar Rapids and concluded that the lifestyle center model was the best option for bringing Westdale back to life.

“Our examination of representative Midwestern lifestyle centers confirms the popularity of the open-air/lifestyle centers that mix retail, residential, and office space interspersed by pedestrian walkways and open areas for public events,” the 18 students wrote in their final report. “Our mall sample also demonstrates successful transformation from an enclosed mall structure like Westdale to the lifestyle center.”

The students found that enclosed malls in Minnesota and Illinois rebounded following a lifestyle metamorphosis. Apparently fresh air and sunshine are all the retail rage now. I sort of liked sipping an Orange Julius under fluorescent bulbs at Chess King, with Bananarama blaring. But times do change. Yes, they do.

This academic call for converting Westdale’s 1979 fully enclosed retail Queen Family Truckster into a snazzy open air convertible comes on the heels of news of that the John Frew group, Willow Creek Ventures LLC, is fixin’ to buy the mall. Willow Creek, with both locals and outsiders, reportedly has a “couple dozen” possible plans for the mall, which would change it “significantly,” while possibly keeping the two current anchors, JC Penney and Younkers.

So we may actually be seeing the end of Westdale’s “dead mall” period and the start of something new.

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