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.