With growth comes change, and things are a-changin’ in Pleasant Hill. In just three years, the population has grown from approximately 5,000 to the current estimate of 9,000 residents. Businesses are moving in, construction is beginning and expansions are inevitable.
“There’s a lot more activity now than there has been in the last five years,” says Ben Champ, Pleasant Hill Community development director. “Meaning, a lot more phone calls, a lot more inquiries and a lot more questions, especially on the retail side.”
Cathy Jensen, executive director of Pleasant Hill Chamber of Commerce, says she has seen an increase in new membership of businesses as well.
One of the most obvious improvements in the area is taking place along the University corridor with the revamping of what was formerly the Hawkeye Wood Shavings Inc. building into what will soon be a Fareway grocery store. This project has taken about five years from planning to construction of the 30,000-square-foot store, which is set to open sometime before Christmas.
“This is a really nice example of redeveloping an existing site and existing infrastructure and generating new additional tax base rather than always going farther and farther away. It’s a way to be a little bit more sustainable long-term,” Champ says. “And it’s a good example of public and private partnerships coming together to get something accomplished.”
In conjunction with the new Fareway, a Casey’s General Store and Gas Station will open as well. New traffic signs and signals were added to the intersection, as well as a street expansion with turning lanes to ease the traffic on the corner of University and 56th Street.
Pleasant Hill’s other grocery store, Hy-Vee, has added a Caribou Coffee with a drive-thru attached to the gas station.
“The credit for that all goes to Allen Barwick, the store manager,” Champ says. “He convinced corporate to let him do it, and they did it with very fast construction to get it done in time for the fair. It’s a very nice construction.”
In the last few weeks, Pleasant Hill has become home to the very first Casey’s Pizza Express, a stand-alone carry out and delivery store that will offer pizza and other goodies, without the standard attached gas station and convenience store.
“I’m sure we’ll see more of those throughout the Midwest, but it started here first,” Champ says.
The former Lakeside Fitness Center was purchased by the Riley Resources Group and will be used as the headquarters for the company. Champ says this is a big improvement for the city because it attracts daytime professionals who will utilize local restaurants and retail options. This, in turn, encourages more entrepreneurs to open locally.
While many things factor into the city’s growth, one of the most notable is the joint effort with Fred Hollister, executive director of East Polk Regional Development, to help locate businesses that would fit well in the area.
“We’re working with the city of Pleasant Hill to look for opportunities for retail development,” Hollister says.
He points out that nothing large, such as a Target or Wal-Mart, will be coming into the city because of the proximity to Altoona, but smaller retail outlets would be a great addition for residents and professionals who work in the city.
Another incoming project Hollister is excited about is the InSite Warehouse. InSite, a company based out of Chicago, will be building warehouse distribution space at the corner of University and Northeast 75th Street. Four buildings, 200,000-square-feet each, will offer rental space for companies and employment opportunities for residents.
Hollister says 75th Street will need to be extended to accommodate the buildings, but the first step is getting the land annexed into the city. Because of the required annexation, no construction has begun, but the process of rezoning is beginning. Hollister expects construction to being late winter or early spring, depending on the weather.
According to Hollister, even though site plans have not yet been finalized, the company is already advertising that the space will be available to rent sometime next year.
“It would be the newest design in warehouse and distribution sitting in one of the newest developments in the region,” he says. “That’s exciting.”
Because the building will be leased out, Hollister doesn’t know who the tenants will be, but he suspects there will be many Des Moines businesses who will utilize the center because of the access to the bypass.
“I think that is what makes Pleasant Hill most attractive,” he says.
Hollister says other light industrial businesses are looking at the area as well. He expects growth in the area to continue business and housing wise. He suggests that with companies such as Facebook taking notice of the area, it is anticipated that other large corporations will start to look to the Des Moines area for future locations.
“This is a company that could go anywhere in the Midwest, invest $400 million anywhere they wanted to, but they chose Polk County,” Hollister says. “This lends legitimacy to the region.”
Champ says Ferguson Commercial Brokerage also assists with providing another source of “external marketing, research and recruitment of retail and other commercial opportunities.”
Part of the work Ferguson has done for the city is to figure out the underlying market conditions and disposable income. Champ says the average income in Pleasant Hill is high, which is attractive to entrepreneurs because is suggests that businesses can succeed here.
“Part of it is that there is just an unmet need over the last five or six years,” he says. “People are finally moving forward.”
Several new businesses have opened in Pleasant Hill during the last year. One of those businesses, Comfort Keepers, a company that assists the elderly and disabled so they can remain in their homes, relocated to Pleasant Hill from Urbandale.
“We all live in this area, so we moved closer to home,” says Clint Rogers, owner.
Rogers says rent in the area is less than in many other Des Moines suburbs, and the city and the Chamber of Commerce both make owning a business in the area easy and exciting.
“Pleasant Hill has a good mix of businesses,” he adds. “The chamber is active, and there are always community events. It’s great for networking.”
While there is a great mix of businesses, as Rogers pointed out, some things Champ says he’d like to see coming into the city include professional services such as attorneys, accounting, veterinary and other areas that could benefit residents. Clothing, sporting goods and restaurant retailers would also be welcomed to the area.
On the infrastructure side of things, Pleasant Hill is part of a group of cities working to get the 65 bypass designated as an interstate. Other cities include Altoona, Des Moines, Norwalk, Carlisle and West Des Moines. They have been working with the Department of Transportation and the Des Moines Metropolitan Planning Organization to study the impact of the possible designation.
“The long-range plan for the bypass was to make the communities along eastern Polk County accessible to the interstate and attractive for businesses, and I think that’s what it is doing,” Hollister says.
Champ says Pleasant Hill residents who enjoy the small-town feel need not worry about all the growth. Commercial development is likely to remain along University Avenue. While some neighborhood services may appear in the next “decade or more,” the residential areas will largely remain untouched.
Infrastructure at the parks, which was greatly improved over the summer, will continue.
Six new residential developments are currently under construction in the area, expanding housing for the growing population. Pricing on the new constructions range from $200,000 to $600,000.
The growth, according to Champ, is happening at a slow enough pace to maintain the high quality of life that residents expect and enjoy. Hollister agrees and points out that the commercial development helps pay for the residential services Pleasant Hill residents enjoy.
“You need a balanced tax base,” Hollister says. “It couldn’t be done just on residential taxes.”
“This is a community that is become a destination, this is a place that people want to live and that will continue,” Champ adds.