Cities proposed $151M in improvements after state offers $100M in aid

USL Pro Iowa and Krause Group are working with the city of Des Moines on plans for a professional soccer stadium site on an abandoned Superfund site south of Martin Luther King Parkway downtown. (Screenshot of Iowa Economic Development Authority board meeting)

The competition to see which Iowa community development projects get a share of a $100 million pot of sales taxes drew $151.6 million in requests, the Iowa Economic Development Authority board learned Friday. 

The massive projects include a proposed professional soccer stadium and sprawling commercial and residential developments on and near a Superfund site in Des Moines; another reinvention of Merle Hay Hall in Des Moines and Urbandale that includes converting an abandoned Younkers store into a hockey arena; an indoor aquatics center, outdoor plaza and commercial developments in Ames’ downtown area; redevelopment of the former Maytag site in Newton; redevelopment of Crossroads Mall in Fort Dodge; and a tower, plazas, microbrewery, hotels and offices in Cedar Rapids. 

IEDA director: ‘We’re oversubscribed’

As IEDA Director Debi Durham told the board, something has to give. The state doesn’t have enough money in this round to cover all those projects.

“We’re oversubscribed,” Durham said after four hours of presentations. The board will have to sort out how many projects are funded, and at what level. 

IEDA staff members said preliminary approval for the winning projects could come as early as the board’s May 21 meeting. Backers would then have a year to bring in formal applications and firm up details and financing for the projects. 

Most board members’ questions revolved around the timing of the projects, the availability of hotel developers coming out of the pandemic, and the details of associated municipal financing.

Des Moines’ Capital City district asked the state for 9.8% of the project costs, or $27.1 million, the lowest state share among all the projects. The multi-decade buildout would run an estimated $276.6 million and include projects at the former site of Dico, Gray’s Landing and Western Gateway at the west edge of downtown. 

Superfund site to give way to professional soccer?

“The Des Moines TCE Superfund site (Dico) is a large gap that we can no longer ignore,” Deputy City Manager Matt Anderson told the board. “It sits in the middle of some of the state’s most popular attractions, yet currently connects to none of them.” Plans call for trail extensions in the area, and facilities to make it easier to use the nearby Raccoon River.

“This project will serve as one of the final pearls in a necklace connecting some of the state’s most popular attractions while allowing visitors to run, walk or bike to all of them,” Anderson added. 

Merle Hay Mall teamed with Des Moines and Urbandale to request $30 million from the state program, 25% of the $121.6 million project. The Merle Hay work would include the ice arena to be used by the Des Moines Buccaneers, a new Kohl’s store, added retail, apartments and senior housing along with a major makeover of the mall. 

Newton asked the state to cover 35% of its project; Fort Dodge, 21%; Cedar Rapids, 15% and Ames, 14%. Backers of the projects in smaller towns noted that those areas have fewer resources than the larger markets.

Here’s a closer look at the projects:

Ames

Ames plans an indoor aquatic center near downtown and a new plaza area in the downtown area. A centerpiece project is a mixed-use commercial development along Lincoln Way avenue with a pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks for access to Main Street businesses. The $154.4 million project would include $21.5 million from the state sales tax program.

Cedar Rapids

The $262.6 million Heart of America District project would include $39.5 million in proposed state funding. The project is expected to include a 23-story retail/office/condo tower with a grocery, two downtown hotels, restaurants, an atrium connecting the two hotels, housing, a microbrewery, a riverfront patio, a kayak and canoe run on the Cedar River, outdoor plazas, and retail and office space.

Des Moines

Des Moines’ $276.6 million Capital City District would be anchored by Krause Group’s and USL Pro Iowa’s proposed 6,300-seat professional soccer stadium at the long-abandoned Dico Superfund site. The plan, backed by $27.1 million in proposed state funding, also would call for a mixture of hotels, housing, retail, outdoor plazas, a convenience store, and a grocery. 

Des Moines/Urbandale

The $121.6 million Merle Hay Mall project would include converting the old Younkers store into a 3,500-seat hockey arena and building a new Kohl’s store on the former site of the now-demolished Sears store. With the help of $30 million from the state program, developers want to add a hockey training center, new retail space, a hotel, a revamped food court and a new mall entrance.

Fort Dodge

An $86 million Corridor Plaza District project would redevelop the Crossroads Mall site with an indoor/outdoor event center, hotel, meeting space and retail. Backers want $18 million from the state. The mall was built in the 1960s.

Newton

The Legacy Reinvestment District would back a $44.6 million project, including $15.5 million from the state program. The project would include market rate apartments, a boutique hotel, event center and a banquet kitchen in historic Maytag Co. buildings. Also included are plans for expanded Des Moines Area Community College programs, retail space, plaza improvements, a Legacy Commons, a five-acre park and infrastructure improvements and derecho repairs. Downtown, backers want to add upstairs apartments, facade restorations and a splash pad.