More on Westdale

Sorry for the long pause, but I was in Des Moines for Supreme Court arguments in the same-sex marriage case.

I’ve been meaning for a few days to post this response from Linn County Supervisor Lu Barron to my column last week on Westdale. I argued that the county should not reject the idea of permanent offices at the ailing mall until a full, transparent and independent analysis had been done on the pluses and minuses.

Linda Langston and Jim Houser have each said they do not favor a long-term county presence at the mall. But Barron insists in-depth analysis is already happening:

After reading your column in today’s Gazette, the County would like to affirm that your suggestion of objective analysis of the Westdale proposal must indeed take place. In fact, County staff is already doing the very things you suggest regarding evaluating the proposal to purchase Westdale Mall. During the Board of Supervisors’ meeting in which Cedar Rapids Properties made the purchase offer to the Board, Supervisor Langston said the proposal will be referred to staff for further consideration. That same day, staff began gathering information and has been meeting daily to discuss the offer.

A staff committee devoted to flood recovery has been meeting weekly since the flood and is preparing various options for permanent locations of County facilities that will be presented to the Board of Supervisors in January. Westdale Mall is one of the 5 or 6 options the County is exploring. Following the presentation to the Board, the County will host a series of public open houses where the public may comment on the proposed options. The dates and locations for these open houses have yet to be finalized and announced. The process on identifying a location includes the County survey that asks constituents about customer service issues, just like we did with our employees by asking them what departments they need to be located near to make performance of their jobs most efficient.

Specifically in terms of the Westdale proposal, the County is in the process of collecting the necessary information, including an independent appraisal of the site, financials, structural analysis, reviews of malls converted to mixed use and assessing the risks associated with owning retail space.

The decision on where to permanently locate County facilities is an important one, and the Board of Supervisors is committed to exploring all of the County’s options, including Westdale Mall. Our goal is to find the best solution for Linn County. This means we will consider convenience of location, cost to taxpayers and the long-term impacts of the County’s decisions on County employees, residents and businesses.

So if you care about this issue, you’d better stay tuned to see exactly when the public meetings will be held.

But if Westdale were really still in play, as Barron contends, why did Houser and Langston flatly dismiss the idea of permanent offices there when they met with Gazette opinion writers this fall, and why was the mall not mentioned in the public survey?  There are a lot of mixed signals.

Again, I’m not endorsing Westdale as a permanent government home. I just want to know the facts before a final decision is made. I hope Barron is right and we’ll all know a lot more soon.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “More on Westdale

  1. Deb

    Call me a cynic, but I no more believe that the Board Of Supervisors primary concerns include the cost to taxpayers or the convenience of location than I believe in the Easter Bunny.

    Ms. Langston’s e mail to you is a convolution of words intended to convince the reader that Westdale is being considered, despite the fact that she does not say that outright.

    The members of the Board are in lockstep with the “corridor” economic development group, and the last thing they worry about it the taxpayer.

  2. “… including an independent appraisal of the site, …

    Supervisor Barron and the Board of Supervisors’ staff should talk to the City Assessor as he has already commissioned a commercial appraiser to provide an appraisal of Westdale Mall. I believe the appraisal is due by December 15th.

    Joel D. Miller

  3. nscott

    1st: Holy Crap… Lu Barron reads your articles?!

    2nd: I think even if the current supes have made up their minds (and it sounds like Barron less so than the other two), the two new supervisors will be able to consider the option of a long term Westdale/county relationship when they start in January. Tabula Rasa-I hope they give it a fresh look. Then, when the Westdale option is rejected, I hope they stand up and say the pros were a, b, c; but the reason it was rejected was x, y, z.

    3rd: Joel Miller brings up a good point on the appraisal and that’s why I vote for him.

    Lastly: Holy Crap… Joel Miller reads your blog?!

  4. Side-stepping Westdale for a moment…

    Your column in the paper today was wonderful. If I had one thing to add it would be that, in addition to my pride for the seriousness and thoughtfulness of our Iowa Supreme Court justicis, I have new found pride in the residents of Iowa. Whether by ice or design, it was wonderful to see these proceedings without there being a carnival or circus backdrop.

    As so many courtrooms have distanced themselves from media and refused camera access, it was refreshing and educational for our Supreme Court to throw the doors open not only to the press, but to as many Iowa residents as possible — ample opportunity for the general public to see how dignified, thoughtful and professional all parties involved behaved.

    Good going, Iowa!

    Now back to your regularly scheduled discussion of Westdale (which, from a consumer of county government standpoint, has a lot of good points — primarily parking)…

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