The foreclosure of Valley West Mall is a devastating blow for the struggling shopping center, once the metro’s largest. Here’s a look at the rise and decline of 47-year-old Valley West.
1971: Minneapolis developer Frederick Watson seeks rezoning of 70 acres in West Des Moines just north of the 35th Street interchange with I-235 for what his representatives say will be the largest shopping center in Iowa — an enclosed mall with three anchor department stores and about 60 smaller retailers.
1971: Meredith Corp. says it will oppose the rezoning request, which is for a parcel adjacent to one where it plans to build a new headquarters, relocating from downtown Des Moines. Just before the rezoning vote, however, Meredith abandons its plan and drops its opposition. Also opposing the mall is a developer who wants to build a giant shopping center, the Windsor Mall, at 73rd Street and University Avenue in Windsor Heights. But the West Des Moines mall plan wins approval and the rival developer drops his plan after failing to secure financing. The site is now home to a Walmart Supercenter and Sam’s Club.
1971: Now known as Valley West Mall, the planned development secures a commitment from J.L. Brandeis and Sons Inc., an Omaha, Nebraska, department store chain, to be the initial anchor tenant.
1974: Construction gets a slow start amid legal wrangling between Watson, the developer, and Dayton-Hudson Corp., a Minneapolis department store chain. After Watson secures a commitment from Petersen Harned Von Maur, an upstart Davenport-based department store, to open a Valley West location, Dayton-Hudson files a lawsuit claiming it had been promised that spot. The Iowa Supreme Court ultimately dismisses the lawsuit and Watson secures a third anchor commitment from J.C. Penney.
1975: The first phase of the mall opens with Brandeis as the sole anchor tenant. A second phase, to be completed in 1976, will bring aboard Petersen Harned Von Maur, later to shorten its name to Von Maur. J.C. Penney will open in 1977 with completion of the third phase, bringing the mall’s floor space to about 900,000 square feet.
1985: Ten years after Valley West opened, West Des Moines has the fastest growth rate in Iowa and its retail sales, up 580%, are the highest per capita in the state. The mall, which has undergone a facelift, has a total of 123 stores, exceeding expectations.
1987: Younkers buys the Brandeis chain, and the store at Valley West takes on the Younkers name.
1988: Thirty-fifth Street is renamed Valley West Drive.
1996: West Des Moines approves zoning for the construction of a new development, the Village at Oak Creek, on the western edge of the city in Dallas County. Over the next few years, the plan morphs into a proposal for a shopping mall with more than 1 million square feet of space.
1999: Valley West opens a new food court.
2001: As plans for what is now called Jordan Creek Town Center gain city approval, Von Maur decides to stay and expand at Valley West instead of relocating there. At the same time, talks to add a Dillards store as a fourth Valley West anchor fall through. The store will later open at Jordan Creek.
2002: Merle Hay and Valley West join forces to oppose the new mall. Studies show the two older malls would lose millions of dollars to the new competitor, and when West Des Moines moves to provide tax increment financing for construction of roads and other infrastructure for the mall, they unsuccessfully sue.
2004: The 1.3 million square-foot Jordan Creek Town Center opens. That holiday season, Valley West, Merle Hay and Southridge malls see a steep decline in sales.
2007: An Iowa State University economic report finds that since Jordan Creek’s opening, the Polk County portion of West Des Moines, where Valley West is located, has lost more retail sales than any part of the metro except the city of Des Moines.
2012: Valley West owner Watson Centers Inc. borrows $50 million, pledging the mall as collateral. Clyde Evans, director of community and economic development for West Des Moines, will later say that before the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. mall management approached the city about whether it would agree to pay off its loan, with the bank willing to accept about half its original value. The city, Evans said, declined to do so.
2018: Struggling in a post-Great Recession retail slump and increasingly challenged by online commerce, Younkers owner BonTon liquidates, closing all of its stores, including the one at Valley West.
2019: Von Maur announces it will build a store at Jordan Creek Town Center. It says it hasn’t decided the fate of its Valley West store.
2020: The COVID-19 pandemic forces the temporary closure of Valley West, followed by months of capacity limitations.
2020: J.C. Penney files for bankruptcy and closes 242 stores, but maintains the one at Valley West.
2021: Valley West and the city of Des Moines announce a plan for $278 million redevelopment of Valley West Mall. The plan fails to win Iowa Economic Development Authority approval to receive a share of $100 million in tax funding.
August 2021: Von Maur, now planning to take over the former Younkers space at Jordan Creek Town Center, acknowledges it will shut down the Valley West store just before opening the new one in time for the holiday season in 2022.
May 8, 2022: U.S. Bank files a foreclosure action against Watson Centers Inc., saying it has failed to pay for a year on its $50 million loan against the mall.
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: A look at the history of Des Moines’ now-foreclosed Valley West Mall