The owners of some of the businesses inside the Mall of the Bluffs are upset after receiving notices last week that the mall had officially been sold and 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 Group in Omaha on Nov. 18 telling him the business must move out of the mall by Dec. 31.
"They played real dirty," he told The Daily Nonpareil. "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. In early September, he said he received a letter from Woodsonia about their 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 located between Planet Fitness and It's $5. A popular attraction at Halloween, the haunted house 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 added that he was told Planet Fitness is being allowed to remain in their present location in the mall until the end of 2020, an accommodation he said should have been allowed to all of the mall 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 any additional information as to the exact timing of the move or where the firm would be moving.
Blackduck Partners, identified by the employee as the corporate owners of Planet Fitness, did not respond to a request seeking additional information on the firm's plans for the Council Bluffs facility.
"There are accommodations that could have been made that wouldn't have costed (Woodsonia) anything and would have helped the affected business owners," Beins said.
The haunted house first 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."
Woodsonia Real Estate of Omaha did not respond to a request seeking clarification of the situation at the mall.
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 purchase of the Mall of the Bluffs by Menards.
Brink, the area’s only certified feline master groomer, said she is hopeful she will be able to sign a lease for a new space Monday.
This was her third year at the Mall of the Bluffs. 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 the 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, with colder temperatures and snow in the forecast for Tuesday, 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 of the Bluffs. Unfortunately, the business has been unable to find another Council Bluffs location at which to reopen and will move to Omaha.
Istanbul Gyro Baklava made its debut in Council Bluffs as the only gyro-specific restaurant in the city last June. For its owners and the gyro-lovers on this side of the river, the limelight has come to an end.
As of Saturday, the restaurant that optimistically made its home in the Mall of the Bluffs is now closed — the first business to close since the revelation of Menard Inc.’s plans in September to acquire the Mall of the Bluffs land and build a new Menards home improvement center.
Plans to move Istanbul Gyro Baklava to another location in the Bluffs have not come to fruition for co-owner Zafer Bulduk, but he said the food and baklava will be available at the Food Court Restaurant at 3428 S. 42 St., in Omaha, this week.
In weeks to come, Bulduk said signage outside of the Food Court will share the name Istanbul, but the baklava is already being served now.
“We appreciate the Council Bluffs people supporting us," he said. "Some customers were wondering if we’re coming back. We’re thinking about it, but not right now,” he said. “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,” Bulduk said.
The Food Court (soon-to-be Istanbul Food Court) is located north of the 42nd Street exit on Interstate 80 in Omaha.
“Thank you for the opportunities,” Bulduk said.
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 would 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."
— Nonpareil Managing Editor Courtney Brummer-Clark, News Editor Mike Brownlee, Senior Writer Jon Leu and Weekend Editor Susan Payne contributed to this report.