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Not Standing Still

Posted September 26, 2012 in Pleasant Hill

There is no way to deny it. Pleasant Hill is growing. According to the 2010 census, the population grew from 2,372 permanent residents to 8,785 in just 10 years. That equates to a 73 percent increase in just a decade.

City Manager Don Sandor (left) and Community Development Director Ben Champ are expecting to see continued growth in Pleasant Hill.

With population increase, there is economic growth and demand for more local businesses, as well as health care facilities. In the last year, Pleasant Hill saw a new health care clinic open and a major grocery store expand. Other retail businesses and restaurants opened in the city, too.

Ben Champ, community development director, and Don Sandor, city manager, sat down with Pleasant Hill Living to discuss the changes, past and future, to the city.

One of the most exciting changes going on right now is at the former Lakeside Fitness building on University. The building has been bought by Des Moines area business, Feed Energy, and will be converted into the company’s headquarters. Approximately 40 employees will occupy the building, running the administrative side of the business. The company does a variety of things including bio-fuel and livestock feed additives.

“They are a really fast-growing company,” Champ says. “They’ve outgrown their current facility.”

He also says what the company really liked about the location was having the lake and trails onsite for their employees.

“It’s going to make it easier for them to recruit the top talent that they need to have.”

Sandor says Feed Energy will retain its Des Moines location as the company expands into Pleasant Hill. As far as the expansion, he says the company has closed on the property, the rezoning has been approved and they are “pretty much ready to go.”

The former Lakeside Fitness building has been purchased by Des Moines area business Feed Energy.

Another area business that has moved to a new facility is the new Care Initiatives Nursing Home. The owners of the existing Pleasant Hill nursing home, Park Ridge, are building its replacement.

“This is a big deal because they are a sizeable employer, and they are really expanding the size of their facility,” Champ says.

The new building, which is close to Mercy Clinic, will measure in at 45,000 square feet and cost approximately $12 million. The opening date on Care Initiatives Nursing Home is not set, but Sandor says it will be sometime around Thanksgiving this year.

While growth and expansion are good things, they sometimes leave buildings empty. However, Champ says while the details are unknown at this time, the Park Ridge building is being looked at by possible developers.

Many developments are also in the early stages of development.

“There are a lots of projects in the works,” Sandor says. “We can say there are at least four projects in the words; now if any of them come to fruition or not remains to be seen.”

“I think it’s fair to say there’s been a lot more activity in the last six months to a year than there has been for the three years prior,” Champ says.

With that, Champ says there are a lot more calls and more businesses looking into the area.

Sandor attributes a portion of the increase to businesses being less leery of the economy.

“They’re less cautious and more optimistic,” he says. “They’re more willing to make investments whereas the last several years they were hesitant to.”

Champ says he feels the increase is also due to the recognition that Pleasant Hill is easy to work with. He says the city council is very business friendly and is willing to partner when needed to get things done.

One thing the city has done to increase the business outlook was enter into a contract with Mike Macri, a commercial real estate broker with a private company, earlier this year. This contract is based on Macri recruiting economic development for the city. According to Sandor, Macri recently finished a market study and trade analysis.

He can now take that information to companies looking for locations and show them in numbers and research that Pleasant Hill is a good place to do business.

Many improvements are being made to the outdoor areas of Pleasant Hill including improved trails along Copper Creek Lake and Doanes Park.

“It’s a unique arrangement,” Sandor says. “He’s just in the infant stages of doing that, but I think that’s going to help us a lot.”

Champ says that part of the research is showing that residents know what they want and they are willing to go other places to get it. With this data, Macri can explain to businesses that there will be a market for their services in Pleasant Hill.

In addition to the agreement with Macri, the city is still active with the Eastern Polk Regional Development Corporation (EPRD), a not-for-profit organization that works throughout the area.

Frederick Hollister, executive director of the group, says he is seeing great things in Pleasant Hill.

“There’s still quite a bit of property available along East University, so I think you’re going to see more commercial development east of the bypass,” he says. There is also industrial property on the far south side of Pleasant Hill with opportunity for growth in that area.

“There’s a lot of stuff going on,” Hollister says.

EPRD works with Greater Des Moines Partnership and the state of Iowa to show property to businesses from out of state that are looking to relocate to the area. Hollister says those types of inquiries have been steadily increasing over the last year.

“Pleasant Hill has a very supportive pro-business government and community over all,” Hollister says, adding that it increases interest for companies because it isn’t that way in all communities.

Sandor and Champ have seen more than just business changes happening in the last year. This summer saw numerous revamping projects across the city, including a new public parking lot and restroom at Copper Creek Lake.

“Copper Creek Lake has turned into a much bigger amenity than I think it was ever anticipated to be,” Champ says. “There are a lot of people who want to go there.”

There are also three major road projects in the area: a resurfacing project for Pleasant Hill Boulevard that is nearly complete, reconstruction on a portion of Sloans Way and the reconstruction and overlay of a significant portion of Oakwood Boulevard.

To partner with that, the city has three separate concrete patching projects of residential streets totaling about a million dollars.

According to Sandor, the investment in the roads is meant to keep “the city vibrant, improved and attractive for people to come to,” and to help form a separate identity.

“People might not know when you transition from Des Moines into Pleasant Hill,” Sandor says.         One of the things the city did was add the large Pleasant Hill sign at Copper Creek Lake. They also added different street lights that stretch from the end of Des Moines all the way to 64th Street. The lights include banner poles.

“It kind of says, ‘you are in Pleasant Hill, this is a distinct community,’ ” Sandor says.

Champ says the sign and poles have received positive feedback from both businesses and potential residents looking at the city.

The improvements to Doanes Park have continued as well with more parking and additional trails.
Sandor feels that the city is trying to give the impression that while it is close to Des Moines, it still has a small-town feel.

“It’s a nice community with good amenities for people to live,” he says.

Hollister says that it is the small town feel with the amenities Sandor referred to that interests many businesses.

“You want someplace that’s attractive where they can relocate to if they choose to, but definitely where they are going to be able to eat lunch, shop and run errands,” he says.

Champ adds that another perk of living in Pleasant Hill is the easy access to Des Moines. He says many families work in the city, but it’s so easy to get back and forth but remain in an area with really great schools that it isn’t an inconvenience.

“We’re the closest suburb to downtown, and the highway offers easy access to West Des Moines,” he says.

The next phase of the Southeast Connector Roadway Project is underway, and Champ says in a few years they will be about halfway from downtown to the bypass. While the timeline is uncertain, it is a focus to get that to Pleasant Hill.

“When that happens,” Champ says, “it will really open up areas further east in Pleasant Hill and eastern Polk County.”

The long-term direction for growth is primarily to the east. They have several office and retail parks that are ready to go, but at the same time the city is committed into reinvesting to the area west of the bypass.

“We want to make sure this part of town is still special,” he says. “We don’t have a downtown, so this is our downtown and we want to keep it nice.”

He adds that the city is looking at redeveloping some areas along University that could be used for something different.

“Between 2006 and 2008, the city did a corridor study and identified properties for redevelopment. When opportunities come, we are interested in partnering with people to get that done.”

As business in the area expands, so does living. Spring Creek Hills is a new residential area south of Southeast Polk High School that recently opened. The first phase of the development with 33 houses is open with the second phase on hold pending sales.

“The location is nice because it is really close to the high school,” Champ says. “It has a lot of walk-out lots and backs to wooded areas.”

The Pleasant Hill sign by Copper Creek Lake is just part of a plan to help give the city its own identity.

Sandor says that it is a “complete community” where people can live, shop and work. With seven active subdivisions with ongoing activity, ranging from custom built to starter homes, Pleasant Hill has housing for anybody.

On the business end of the complete community aspect, Sandor hopes to see more locally-owned, retail-type stores in the area.

“Some of the convenient things like a hardware store, lawn and garden store, even a clothing store — those types of stores that people can run to easily to get their daily needs,” he says.

Other comprehensive plans for the future include an updated park plan. According to Sandor, a park plan hasn’t been updated since the mid-1990s. Though nothing is firmly set, Sandor says the park and recreation council recognizes that something needs to be done to accommodate the organized sports teams — little league and soccer, specifically.

“That need is still there and needs to be addressed,” he says. “It will be addressed in some manner.”

The city recently launched a new website ( where residents can see what is going on in the city and find available properties and business incentives. The site also has newsletters, library information and other city news.

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