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Crossroads mall site at a crossroads

Small business owners seek support; Council begins process of helping developer

-Submitted image
This image shows what the area that now contains the Crossroads Mall could look like with residential, business and retail buildings. This view looks from the northeast corner to the southwest corner of the current Crossroads Mall.

The local government’s effort to support the redevelopment of the Crossroads Mall site was launched Monday by City Council members who first heard from sometimes angry and sometimes tearful mall merchants worried about what will happen to their livelihoods.

An ambitious plan revealed Monday by Crossroads Plaza Development LLC, of Ankeny, calls for demolishing the mall and replacing it with a collection of smaller retail and mixed use buildings, a medical or office building and a hotel.

The former Sears store at the south end of the mall, which is actually a separate property with a different owner than the mall, may be purchased and demolished by the end of this year.

Melissa Verschoor, the general manager of Crossroads Mall, asked the council to ”stand behind” the businesses that are now in the mall.

”That mall and its tenants are my second family,” she said.

-Submitted image
This image shows what the area that now contains the Crossroads Mall could look like with residential, business and retail buildings. This view looks from the southwest corner to the northeast corner of the current Crossroads Mall.

Verschoor, who has worked at the shopping center in various roles for years, is an employee of the mall’s current owners, Namdar Realty Group, Mason Asset Management and CH Capital, all of Great Neck, New York.

”It’s unfortunate that the company you work for does not have the same passion for that building that you do,” Councilman Jeff Halter said to Verschoor.

Tom Bethke, the owner of The Fish Tank in the mall, said that none of the mall merchants have been contacted by any city official regarding the plan to redevelop the site.

”Why the disrespect?” he asked.

”It’s not fair to say there’s no concern,” Mayor Matt Bemrich replied.

-Submitted map
This map shows the planned locations of the various buildings that will occupy the site of Crossroads Mall in Fort Dodge under a redevelopment plan unveiled by Crossroads Plaza Development LLC, of Ankeny.

He said the council’s actions Monday were the first step in a long process. He said there will be plenty of time for city officials to work with individual mall merchants.

When Bethke said he was unhappy with what he sees as a lack of communication about the future of the mall, Halter suggested that kind of communication should be coming from the mall’s owners.

”It’s unfortunate that you found out from The Messenger instead of your landlord,” Halter said.

Amanda Peart opened her business, a hair salon and art gallery called Personal Expressions, in the mall early this year. She told the council that her business plan works because the rent she pays at the mall is affordable. She said her lease expires next April, and she doesn’t yet know what will happen after that.

”Just keep an open mind about creating a place for the small businesses,” she told the council.

Councilman Dave Flattery suggested that she contact the Small Business Development Center for help.

A home for small businesses isn’t the only thing that will be lost with the eventual demolition of the mall, according to Peart. She said that for years, the mall was the place where children went to see Santa Claus. It has also been the site of indoor trick-or-treating.

Crossroads Plaza Development LLC plans to buy the old Sears store from Blessing Enterprises, of St. Charles, Missouri, for $1,435,000 in a deal expected to be concluded by Jan. 1.

The firm will also buy the mall for $3.3 million in a deal to conclude before March 1.

City Manager David Fierke said the project will be impossible without help from the local government.

The process of providing that help started Monday.

The council unanimously approved a resolution which Fierke said declares ”the high level intent of the City Council” to support the project.

Over the years, the city government will give the developer up to $18.2 million through tax increment financing, a technique that will not take money from the general fund or raise property taxes.

On Monday the council issued $3.57 million worth of revenue bonds for the first support to the developer. That money is being borrowed from Bernardi Securities Inc., of Chicago. That firm offered the lowest interest rate of 2.14 percent.

Increased property tax revenue generated by the project will pay off the debt.