Redevelopment of established areas in landlocked western suburbs of Des Moines has been the focus in cities such as West Des Moines, Urbandale and Clive, and so it goes for Windsor Heights, where city officials are working with a private developer to bring new life to a northeastern corner of land that is a gateway to the city.
Windsor Heights Mayor Jerry Sullivan and City Administrator Jeffrey Fiegenschuh say the city is working with Hurd Real Estate to develop 7.6 acres of land located south of Hickman Road and west of 63rd Street. They say the Des Moines-based development and investment firm, which owns and manages a portfolio of more than 85 income-producing commercial properties in nine cities throughout the Midwest and Southwest, is contemplating plans for the Windsor Heights site that include the possible construction of a new medical clinic and office, which would serve as the site’s anchor, as well as retail and some housing.
Sullivan and Fiegenschuh say Hurd Real Estate has offered about $2.4 million for the property, and they hope to close the deal by the end of September. They say Hurd’s offer is slightly higher than the land’s appraised value, and the city has completed infrastructure work on the site to allow for its development.
“We’re in the due diligence period of working with Richard Hurd, who has been great to work with,” says Fiegenschuh, 38, who was named city administrator earlier this year after having held similar jobs in cities in Iowa and Illinois. “We know that once the deal is complete, he will want to break ground as soon as possible. He’s in the business to make money, and he won’t want it to sit idle.”
In 2008 and 2009, the city of Windsor Heights acquired the 7.6 acres of land that once housed a gas station, small box retail store, bar, office, apartments and a mobile home park. In 2011, it completed the widening of Hickman Road and 63rd Street as well as the signalization of the intersection of Westover Boulevard and Hickman Road. Sullivan says it was an area in needed of updating.
“It was considered a blighted area. If we let it deteriorate, it would have continued to deteriorate,” says the mayor. “Years ago our city council decided to step up and make it better. Now it’s a desirable piece of land.”
The city selected RDG Planning & Design to prepare a market analysis report and to create a vision plan for the property that illustrated the city’s objectives and the concerns of its citizens with the hopes of attracting a private developer to build there. In December 2011, the Windsor Heights City Council and RDG met to plan for the goals of the redevelopment of the property which they hope will one day become a walkable, mixed-use corridor along Hickman Road that will be safe, convenient, energetic, attractive and green friendly for residents and businesses and will fit into the larger metropolitan view of the Hickman Road corridor. The plan was unveiled to the public in March 2012.
Specifically, city leaders and planners established a flexible plan that would allow a variety of development options for the property, including retail, office, multi-family (apartments, town homes) and parking space with a pedestrian connection to a neighboring public park to the south. An analysis of the site’s market potential revealed that its greatest potential for success — based on the desired neighborhood character, amount of space available and retail market conditions — would be the development of a variety of businesses including a pharmacy and drug store, grocery store, full service restaurant and miscellaneous retail such as a convenience store, florist and appliances.
The city also hosted a seminar in which it invited developers to look at the property.
“That’s when we met Hurd, and six months later he mailed us his proposal,” says Sullivan.
The property is located in a tax increment financing (TIF) area. TIF is a public financing method that is used as a subsidy for redevelopment, infrastructure and other community improvement projects in areas of communities where development might not otherwise occur.
“We want this new area of land to mirror what’s going on along University Avenue in Windsor Heights,” says Sullivan. “When we created the TIF program, it was designed to bring companies here. When this property is developed, it will give us the access we need to our community. It will be a big addition.”
Fiegenschuh credits the city for having the foresight for using TIF the correct way to spur development.
“TIF is a powerful tool, and Windsor Heights used it the right way. Otherwise we wouldn’t have Hy-Vee or possibly Sam’s Club and the Community Center,” he says. “I truly believe it was the impetus of it all.”
Upon the completion of the agreement between Hurd and the city, Hurd would then work with others to develop the land. Sullivan and Fiegenschuh say the site’s anchor, a medical clinic and office, would be built on about 1.5 acres of the property’s 7.6 acres. Plans could also call for some limited multi-family housing and retail.
Officials say the city has worked closely with the Des Moines Metropolitan Planning Organization. It has until 2014 to complete streetscaping, which includes the installation of lighting and planters filled with flowers to uphold to the city’s proposed design standards.
“This is a main entryway so that when you first see Windsor Heights you know it’s a destination,” says Sullivan says. “For us, it means everything.”
Other development news
In addition to the development of the land at the corner of 63rd Street and Hickman Road, city officials are also working on other development-related projects including the construction of a new Kum & Go convenience store and gas station at the corner of 73rd Street and University Avenue, the implementation of new design standards for future development projects and the unveiling of a new Website for the city.
“They’re going to put in a new store where the existing one is,” says Sullivan of the Kum & Go project. “They’ve started to break ground. It’s going to be new and have a fresh look and give us another update to an entryway to the city.”
Fiegenschuh says city leaders are also discussing the possibility of establishing design standards for future development and redevelopment in Windsor Heights.
“It’s a way of marketing Windsor Heights as midtown because it’s truly in the heart of it all,” he says. “We have the second busiest Wal-Mart in the state, and we have so many businesses that are close together that we want to brand the city.”
Part of that discussion is spurred by the Hickman overlay district, which the city council has considered using along University Avenue, officials say.
“It’s so we don’t have a hodgepodge of buildings, so that there is some consistency,” Fiegenschuh says. “I hope it’s something we get done by December, but we don’t want to rush it. If you’re going to have design standards, you want to do it right.”
The city administrator and his staff are also working on a new website for the city, one that will better serve potential developers and businesses with photos and information on available properties.
“We have some lots near Wal-Mart to show that we want to make available online. If someone is thinking of opening a business in Windsor Heights, they can link to our site to get there. We hope to have that completed by the middle of September,” he says.
Fiegenschuh also notes that his first few months on the job have been busy and that he credits the city’s leaders for their work in attracting developers and businesses over the years.
“Jerry’s been a very good mayor to work for,” he says. “Development deals don’t happen unless you have the political connections, and having a mayor that can work with developers is so important. I just want to get the job done and give the credit to Jerry because his leadership has been fantastic.”
In the 12 years Sullivan has served the city — eight as mayor and four on the city council — he says this is perhaps the most exciting time for Windsor Heights regarding development.
“We’ve got more going on now than any other time in the 12 years since I’ve been here,” he says. “Our goal is to keep moving forward.”