Property is sold and tenants feel blindsided by closing notices

The Mall of the Bluffs opened in 1986 on Madison Avenue near Interstate 80.

COUNCIL BLUFFS — The owners of some of the businesses inside the Mall of the Bluffs are upset after receiving notice last week that the mall had officially been sold and that they needed to vacate the building by the end of the year.

Bryon Beins of Omaha, a co-owner of Madness Haunted House, said he received a certified letter from Woodsonia Real Estate in Omaha on Nov. 18 telling him the business must move out of the mall by Dec. 31. Woodsonia handled the acquisition of the property for Menards, which plans to demolish the mall and build a home improvement center.

"They played real dirty," he told the Daily Nonpareil, speaking of Woodsonia. "I've sought out legal counsel, and we're going to fight it, but our next season is done. That's not enough time to plan."

Beins said he and his partner had just finalized a new two-year lease agreement with the mall in August. He said that in early September he received a letter from Woodsonia about its interest in the mall property — which was owned by Namdar Realty Group in Long Island, New York. The letter asked Beins for a copy of his lease with the mall.

He was told Woodsonia would take possession of the mall on Nov. 15.

"I called them repeatedly before they took ownership and they wouldn't tell me anything other than, 'We can't tell you what our plans are right now,' or 'We just don't know,' " Beins said.

Beins said he has about $160,000 invested in the business, which is between Planet Fitness and It's $5. The haunted house is a popular attraction at Halloween and is the only professional haunted attraction in Council Bluffs.

Beins said 30 days isn't sufficient time for him and his business partner to find and sign an agreement for a new location, tear down everything in their current location and move.

"I have 5,000 square feet of lumber, props and more that I have to move in 30 days," he said.

Beins said he was told that Planet Fitness was being allowed to remain in its current location in the mall until the end of 2020, an accommodation that he said should have been granted to all of the mall's tenants.

However, a Planet Fitness employee who wished not to be identified said the business would move from the Mall of the Bluffs property "before the end of 2020" but was not able to provide additional information on the exact timing of the move or where the fitness center would be moving.

Blackduck Partners, identified by the employee as the corporate owner of Planet Fitness, did not respond to a request seeking additional information on the company's plans for the Council Bluffs facility.

"There are accommodations that could have been made that wouldn't have cost (Woodsonia) anything and would have helped the affected business owners," Beins said.

The haunted house opened in the mall four years ago, and Beins said he hopes to find another location in Council Bluffs to reopen.

"The rental properties I have seen so far in town are just not in our budget," he said. "Council Bluffs is where I want to be, but if I can't find another location, we're going to have to go somewhere else. This next year does not look promising."

Drew Snyder, president of Woodsonia, told the Associated Press on Tuesday that most mall leases have 30-day termination provisions.

Just a year after spending nearly $15,000 to remodel a larger space for her growing business, Melinda Brink, owner of cat spa Club Meow, said she has two weeks to move as a result of the mall's sale.

Brink, who said she is the area's only certified feline master groomer, said she was hopeful that she would be able to sign a lease for a new space Monday.

This was her third year at the mall. Brink said she opened her cat grooming business in a smaller space. But with the business growing and plans to add more services, she moved into the former Pearl Vision location at the mall a year ago, spending nearly $15,000 to remodel that space to meet her needs.

"We literally got notice that Menards had purchased the mall and our eviction notice on the same day," she said. "I'm supposed to be gone in two weeks, but I'm expected to pay rent for the entire month of December."

To make matters worse, Brink said she arrived at her shop Monday to find the space without heat.

"I contacted Menards and was told it was the tenant's responsibility to have the necessary repairs made," she said. "The manager from Menards we are supposed to be dealing with is out of town. It's hard to get an answer from anyone."

She said she cannot afford an expensive repair and plans to bring in space heaters to warm her shop.

"The situation is bad, but there isn't much that you can do but laugh," Brink said.

Like Club Meow, Istanbul Gyro Baklava is closing up shop at the mall. The business has been unable to find another Council Bluffs location and has moved to Omaha. Co-owner Zafer Bulduk said his food and baklava is available at the Food Court Restaurant at 42nd and Grover Streets in Omaha.

Istanbul Gyro Baklava made its debut in Council Bluffs in June specializing in gyros.

The restaurant was the first business at the mall to close since the announcement in September of Menard Inc.'s plan to acquire the property.

"We appreciate the Council Bluffs people supporting us," Bulduk said. "Some customers were wondering if we're coming back. We're thinking about it, but not right now. We couldn't find any existing locations in Council Bluffs to move, so we decided for now, people can support us at the Food Court."

The Iowa Department of Transportation driver's license station at the mall will move to a different location on the property, according to Darcy Doty, director for driver and identification services with the department. The planned move will happen sometime in 2020.

"We know it's sometime next year, no official word on details," Doty said. "We're not moving far, just a relocation on the property. It will still be easy for customers to find us."

Courtney Brummer-Clark, Mike Brownlee, Jon Leu and Susan Payne of the Daily Nonpareil contributed to this report, which also includes material from the Associated Press.

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