The city of Johnston has seen significant residential growth in the last decade with a population that was 17,278 in the 2010 census, an increase of almost 100 percent from the 8,649 population in the 2000 census.
With this increase in population, the town is also seeing new business development and expansions. Major employers in town are adding jobs. Other new businesses, like the popular Jethro’s BBQ restaurant, are moving to Johnston. The city is also conducting a market analysis and redevelopment plan for the Merle Hay Road Gateway area. With the addition of a new high school, more housing in Johnston and several quality-of-life projects, the future for Johnston development looks bright.
Areas for development
City officials and developers have identified several areas in town that are the focus for potential commercial development. One of those areas is the Merle Hay Road Gateway Area. The Gateway Area is defined as generally south of Northwest 55th Avenue along both sides of Merle Hay Road to Interstate 35/80.
As one of only two gateways into the city from Interstate-35/80, this area is a recognizable and critical area, thus this planning effort is being done to ensure it is developed in a manner that maximizes its potential. The plan explores the development and redevelopment potential of vacant and underutilized parcels within the corridor, identifies target markets, explores existing challenges to development and develops implementation strategies the city and property owners can undertake to facilitate implementation of the plan.
“The reason that it’s an area of focus is we want to encourage more commercial development to broaden the tax base and make sure those commercial properties are used for their highest and best use, and what’s the best for the whole community,” says director of Johnston Economic Development Phil Dunshee. “Some will need some assistance from the city to make development possible.”
Another area that is ripe for development is the open space farther north along Merle Hay Road, like the area adjacent to the current Hallmark store. Dunshee says there is green space available on the corridor that is suitable for commercial, retail or high-density housing.
The third area the city intends to focus its attention on is the Northwest 86th Street corridor. With the addition of the new Jethro’s Pork Chop Grill, new businesses may be attracted to the area.
“We are looking at that as a catalyst for some additional activity in that area and for the whole corridor of 86th up to 70th Avenue,” Dunshee says. “That whole corridor will benefit from the Jethro’s restaurant, and we would like more commercial development to be stimulated by that activity.”
It’s likely that with the addition of the new high school north of 62nd Avenue and west of 100th Street, additional retail and commercial activity will also occur in that location.
This year long-time Johnston-based company DuPont Pioneer has announced plans for growth. The $38 million Johnston Beaver Creek II Building will be an expansion to the existing Beaver Creek Campus. The Beaver Creek Campus is one of seven research locations in Iowa. The 180,000 square-foot state-of-the-art facility expansion will house approximately 400 of the 4,000 DuPont Pioneer research employees who are dedicated to improving productivity and profitability for customers globally. It will create 100 jobs in the Des Moines metro area.
The new expansion is slated to open in December 2014. The announcement came on the heels of the opening of its Johnston Innovation Center, the company’s second in the United States and 12th around the world, focusing on the company’s unique integrated science capabilities across the food, agriculture and energy value chains.
The 3,500-square-foot space and adjoining collaboration room showcase the latest company technology, applications and products created to meet the world’s biggest challenges, including food security, energy and protection. Additionally, DuPont is investing more than $200 million in its Nevada, Iowa, commercial cellulosic ethanol production facility. The construction of the facility will employ more than 1,000 workers. It will create more than 60 full-time jobs and involve hundreds of farmers who will supply the stover (the stalks, leaves and cobs that remain in the field after harvest) to the facility upon completion.
DuPont expects that it will break ground on the new facility this fall.
Another Johnston company that has announced plans for an expansion is Lithia Volkswagen of Des Moines. The car dealership on Merle Hay Road has plans for a $6 million project that would add a new showroom and office building. The new 17,650-square-foot showroom for the Audi of Des Moines line, which will also include offices and a service area, will be built on the site of a current building that houses used cars, according to plans presented to the Johnston City Council.
The new construction will separate the Audi and Volkswagen lines and will add 25 new jobs to staff the Audi building, says Anthony Gladney, the dealership’s general manager. On the former house site, the dealership plans to pave a new lot to show Audi vehicles. The Lithia Volkswagen of Des Moines building will also undergo a renovation to become LEED certified, an architectural standard that measures sustainability.
City leaders anticipate that this redevelopment, located in the Merle Hay Road gateway area, might spur increased interest. Dunshee says city leaders are working to overcome some of the problems the area has in an effort to make the space a more desirable location.
“Merle Hay is all open for commercial and retail development,” he says. “The city is working to overcome some issues like a closed hotel that is no longer suitable for use as a hotel, which could be considered a less-than-desirable view as you enter Johnston. There are some former residences that really do not fit within the commercial retail plan, and that will require some work to make the land suitable for future development.”
With the Lithia expansion, it’s hopeful that the revitalized area will then attract major retailers and a hotel.
Another announcement that has city planners and developers excited is the one from Jethro’s BBQ owner Bruce Gerleman that the next Jethro’s will be located in Johnston. Jethro’s Pork Chop Grill is slated to open in December.
As with all of the other metro Jethro’s restaurants, this one will have a particular focus, and as the name suggests, it’s easy to see what it is — pork chops.
“We have two 900-pound smokers in the kitchen smoking 24 hours a day, but now we’re adding a new wood-fired grill to cook pork chops, burgers and steaks over an open flame,” he says. “That will allow us to add pork chops in a lot of different ways. We’ll have the Jethro’s State Fair chop, the Iowa Chop, stuffed pork chops, smoked pork chops, grilled pork chops. You can also get the chops tossed in any of our 10 different sauces that we make in-house.”
Gerleman says he chose Johnston for simple economic reasons. Within three miles there are 53,000 people, and their average household income is $123,000.
“So we think people will want shrimp and fish available on the menu as well as steaks,” he says. “We will have black Angus steaks and grilled shrimp and salmon and mahi mahi, so you’ll be able to not only be able to have grilled meats but grilled fish and shrimp.”
Gerleman anticipates a family-friendly feel where those who live close can walk over or push their strollers over and have a great meal. The restaurant will also have nearly every game imaginable thanks to its 15 satellite subscriptions. Gerleman hopes the construction work is finished on time to meet the anticipated Dec. 7 opening date, as he plans to invite veterans to come in for a free meal to commemorate the anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day.
With all the business development in Johnston, residential development follows. Employees are interested in living where they work, and they’re interested in a community that is forward thinking when it comes to a great school district and quality-of-life projects.
“We are seeing some new lots platted, and that hasn’t happened in the last several years,” says city manager Jim Sanders. “We are now starting to see some lots for people who want to build. We were getting low on lots because there wasn’t a lot of development in terms of creating more lots, but now we’re starting to see more.”
Hubbell Realty Company is currently building in Johnston’s Crosshaven development. The community is located off of 100th Street north of Northwest 70th Street in the northwest portion of Johnston. It’s a conservation community, which means that it’s designed so 50 percent of the land is reserved for open space. It’s planted with native prairie grasses that filter storm water, making it clean when it leaves the site.
The development is about 200 acres in size. It will feature about 350 single-family homes and another 100 or so townhomes. Hubbell has built a plat almost every year, and they sell out almost instantly.
“It’s a new way of development that’s more environmentally friendly, and this is one of our shining examples of it,” says Joe Pietruszynski, vice president of land development for Hubbell. “I say it’s like a golf course-type development but with no golfers. We’ve added trails and other things that really add to your quality of life. It’s the overall package.”
Sanders says residential growth drives commercial growth and vice versa. They really go hand in hand, and in Johnston, the community’s economic future is a bright one.
“We’re a growing community, and with growth in the residential area, we see more businesses located here because we have more people and more employees here,” he says. “It’s a strong economic environment. With our great schools, it attracts people. Johnston is blessed to have strong schools and a commitment to quality of life issues.”
Pietruszynski says with the caliber of employees at Johnston companies, they wanted to offer the types of homes that would attract those people.
“If you’re a newcomer and you want a place where you’ll invest in your home and invest in your family, it’s here,” he says. “With the amenities Johnston offers, you will see a good investment in your home because demand is so high, and you will see an investment in your way of life.”