2021 Spring Development Forum Recap

Did you miss the 2021 Spring Development Forum or simply need a refresher? No worries! This year the Spring Development Forum included an update from the City of Johnston as well as a development panel discussion with industry professionals moderated by JEDCO Executive Director Phil Dunshee. Here’s a recap of the event and the information shared by the City of Johnston and the panel of development professionals.

Participants Included:

  • City of Johnston Team
    • David Wilwerding, Community Development Director
    • Jim Sanders, City Administrator
  • Development Panel
    • Steve Scott, LOCATE CRE
    • Brian Erickson, Knapp Properties
    • Chris Trosper, Hubbell Realty Company

City of Johnston staff including Jim Sanders and David Wilwerding shared quality of life data as well as information about several projects currently underway in Johnston and plans for additional projects in 2021. After the City of Johnston update the development panel answered a variety of questions in relation to their careers, past development projects in Johnston, challenges, and potential Johnston developments coming soon! These industry experts, with their years of experience, were generous enough to impart their industry “best practices”. If you’re interested in hearing the full conversation, check out our webinar recording. The event concluded with a showing of the newly released Spring 2021 Drone Video featuring updates on current development projects in Johnston. Check out our drone video to learn a little more about current opportunities in the beautiful city of Johnston!

Johnston City Council Candidate Forum

The Johnston Economic Development Corporation hosted a virtual candidate forum on Wednesday, May 19, 2021 to provide the Johnston community with an opportunity to meet the four candidates running for the open city council seat. Because there are more than two candidates running for the position, the City will hold a primary election on Tuesday, May 25, 2021. The primary election will determine which two candidates will be on the ballot for the special election being held on June 22, 2021.

The candidates, all of whom participated in the virtual event, are as follows:

  • Bryan Burkhardt
  • Jim Gorsche
  • Adam Haar
  • Brei Johnson

On behalf of the Johnston Economic Development Corporation, we wish to sincerely thank the candidates for a constructive, civil and informative discussion.

The video of the candidate forum has now been posted for public access. Select the button below to view the full video. If anyone is interested in learning more about specific topics, use this time log to fast forward to those items.

  1. Introductions – 1:06
  2. Opening Statements – 6:28
  3. Why are you running? – 17:55
  4. What one thing do you want to accomplish? – 26:45
  5. What is your strategy for economic development? – 34:32
  6. Tax Increment Financing – 43:24
  7. Your Johnston City SWOT Analysis – 50:41
  8. City’s Carbon Footprint – 1:01:19
  9. Role of Police Departments – 1:09:13
  10. Broadband Telecommunications – 1:19:22
  11. Closing Statements – 1:27:41
  12. Thank you and Closing – 1:34:45

Learn more about the special election and voting locations here.

John Deere Works to Improve Equity and Inclusion with The LEAP Coalition

Heirs’ Property puts many Black families at risk of losing their farms

The LEAP Coalition, which includes John Deere, Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) and National Black Growers Council, is helping Black farming families keep their lands. The creation of LEAP is a result of John Deere’s participation on a Business Roundtable (BRT) special committee on racial equity and justice. The group’s finance subcommittee, which Chairman and CEO John C. May is part of, focuses on providing access to capital in minority communities and other factors contributing to persistent income disparity.

Over a century ago, 16 million acres of U.S. land was owned by Black farmers, today, it’s dropped to only 4.7 million acres. There are numerous reasons for the decline in land including a discriminatory practice that impacted how Black farmers acquired and passed on their land––Heirs’ Property.

Heirs’ Property is land that belongs to multiple people with a common ancestor who didn’t leave a legal will. It has become the leading cause of involuntary land loss among Black farmers. Due to the fractionalized ownership of these lands, Black farmers are unable to use their property as collateral to secure loans or credit to further develop their businesses. In addition, they are often excluded from government programs or other forms of emergency relief. It’s become a national issue.

John Deere’s Coalition will collectively address priority legislation, expand educational and advocacy opportunities, and ensure access to tools and technology all farmers need to successfully navigate advanced production systems.

For the Ely family and their Heirs’ Property in Barlow Bend, Alabama, it was a chance to continue to keep the farm for the next generations. However, unknown to the rest of the family, a part of their land had been sold after one of the 15 children of the original land owners passed away. They only became aware of it when presented with a lawsuit from a man who had bought the interest from the sold land. Legal resources were provided to the Ely Family with the help of organizations such as the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund. 

Additionally, John Deere continues to support the important work of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and Minorities in Ag Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS). Recently, John Deere pledged $1 million to the NAACP to assist aspiring Black entrepreneurs and provided matching grants to other social justice organizations.

John Deere is committed to ensuring Black farmers have the resources they need to LEAP forward and sustain their farms for generation to come. See the full LEAP Coalition Press Release from September 15, 2020.

Corteva and Symborg Agreement Expands Farmer Access to Microbe-based Nitrogen Fixation Product

Corteva Agriscience and Symborg, an expert in microbiological technologies, announced on April 19, 2021 that they would enter into a multi-year agreement around a microbe-based nitrogen fixation product in the United States, Canada, Brazil and Argentina. This agreement will give Corteva an exclusive distribution license for endophytic bacterium Methylobacterium symbioticum provided by Symborg. It works with the plant to secure needed nitrogen from the atmosphere. 

Branded Utrisha™ N nutrient efficiency optimizer, the Corteva product works in natural field conditions, adapting to the plants’ growth needs and helping to sustainably maximize crop yield potential. It will be available for a broad range of crops, including field and row crops, sugar cane, and turf and ornamental, as well as range and pasture. The agreement also enables Corteva and Symborg to co-distribute the product in specialties crops on an exclusive basis.

The collaboration is another step towards the Corteva Agriscience 2030 Sustainability Goals, further expanding Corteva’s expanding Biologicals portfolio.The company has also been leveraging their wide distribution network, market reach and extensive research and development capabilities to promote the new product. 

View the full Press Release.

MidAmerican AMR Replacement Project

MidAmerican Energy has launched a project to replace automated meter reading (AMR) devices on customer gas meters throughout the service territory in 2021. Installed nearly a decade ago, the lifespan of these early AMR is shorter than current models, thus the need to replace to a more current model. Replacing them will now will help billing interruptions for customers in the future.

The plan is to work one street and neighborhood at a time, beginning in the Sioux Falls area early this year. The replacement of this device will take approximately 30 minutes according to MidAmerican, with no interruption to a customers service. A flyer will be sent to the customer’s mailbox when installations begin in their neighborhood. It will include instructions and a timeline for the installation. MidAmerican and some third-party contractors will knock on the customer’s door to let them know they are there. Once complete, they leave a door tag or flyer on the door.

Customers do not need to be home for the installation, but any gates need to be unlocked and pets secured prior to it. Below is a timeline of the installation based on cities.


  • Sioux Falls, South Dakota, area: February-November
  • Iowa and Illinois Quad Cities areas: April-November
  • North Sioux City, Iowa, area: April-November

Visit their website for to learn more and find frequently asked questions.

Supreme Court Rules on Beaver Creek Water Service

Commentary – It’s a fair question to ask: “Is it settled?” The short answer seems to be “no”. The high court did answer some questions about what the law says about the respective rights of Xenia and the City of Johnston, but a difference of opinion between the parties seems to remain unresolved. This annexed area provides a significant opportunity for future growth for Johnston and NW Polk County; a big part of it is designated as “employment” in the Johnston comprehensive plan. To realize this vision for development, utilities, including water and sewer, must be present. Corresponding developments must also emerge to financially justify the public investment.

Having the right to extend services into an area with no developments doesn’t make sense for either Xenia or the City of Johnston. It is hoped that reasonable minds can meet so that some agreement can be reached about the extension of utilities into this development area. No one seems to be benefiting from the protracted litigation.

Originally posted May 11, 2021 – The Iowa State Supreme Court has issued an opinion on Xenia Rural Water Dist. V. City of Johnston. The Court generally ruled that a rural water district does not have a right to provide water service to an area within two miles of the limits of a municipality. This apparently clears the way for the City of Johnston to extend water service to the NW Annexation (Beaver Creek) area.

The parties to the litigation included the City of Johnston and Xenia Rural Water District, with engagement by the Iowa League of Cities and the Association of Regional Water Associations et al, respectively.

The City of Johnston has reported that they are pleased with the Opinion and will soon be reaching out to NW Annexation (Beaver Creek) area property owners with additional information. This issue has been a significant barrier to progress in the Beaver Creek development area. It is unclear at this writing what further action may be considered in this matter.

Beaver Creek Development Area Traffic Study

Johnston, Grimes and Polk County hosted a public information meeting on May 13 to discuss a traffic study for the Highway 141 corridor between the Highway 44 and Highway 415 interchanges (see the accompanying illustration above). If you weren’t able to attend the meeting, the handout and a video has been posted on the City of Johnston website.

The goal of the study is to create a master plan that will address the buildout needs of the corridor including access management, safety performance, and major intersection location form and function. The plan would be the basis for access coordination and future roadway improvement project. Some initial observations from the study include:

  • Current traffic counts are between 20,000 and 25,000
  • MPO Forecast indicates future traffic counts to be above 30,000
  • What is labeled as “Comprehensive Plan Buildout Forecast— Future” suggests traffic counts between 45,000 and 73,000
  • Higher traffic counts are in the south end of the corridor
  • Crash frequency and severity data suggest that the current locations of concern are at NW 78th Ave, and NW Towner Drive, although it can also be observed that accidents have occurred through the length of the corridor

The development community in the Greater Des Moines area is encouraged to participate in these information meetings and planning process. The next public information meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, June 29, 2021.

REGISTER HERE (registration link not yet available)

North Risk Partners Host Webinar: The American Rescue Plan Act

On Thursday, May 20, North Risk Partners is hosting a webinar covering the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). In this webinar, they will be discussing the key employee benefits provisions listed out in the act and help guide employers though those provisions.

According to The White House website, the ARPA’s main points of focus are providing direct relief to the American people like a $1,400 stimulus to qualified individuals, giving support to schools, extending unemployment insurance, providing support for small businesses, and continuing to combat the pandemic while giving guidance surrounding the COVID-19 vaccinations.

In relation to the ARPA’s employee benefits-related provisions, North Risk Partners’ webinar will cover:

  • The enhancements to and extension of the FFCRA paid leave programs

The FFCRA paid leave program requires certain employers to provide their employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19.

The ARPA will be temporarily increasing the maximum amount that DCAP qualified individuals can exclude from their annual income to $10,500.

  • A two-year enhancement of the ACA’s premium tax credits

This includes a child tax credit, earned income tax credit, and child and dependent care tax credit.


Under the ARPA, the federal government will pay 100 percent of COBRA insurance premiums for eligible employees who lost their jobs and for their covered relatives through September 2021, allowing them to stay on their company-sponsored health plan.

If you’re interested in learning how all of these affect you as an employer or employee, sign up here to hear from industry professionals.

Underground Magnetics Set To Expand

Update – The Johnston City Council approved the site plan for this project at their meeting on April 5, 2021. Included here is an updated vicinity map showing the location of the expansion.

Originally Posted March 18, 2020 – The City of Johnston is preparing to enter into a development agreement with Underground Magnetics for the construction of a $6.5 million, 38,000 square foot office and warehouse building on NW Beaver Drive and adjacent to Johnston Drive. Underground Magnetics provides equipment and software for HDD locating systems. HDD is an acronym for Horizontal Directional Drilling, which is method for installing pipes, cables, and conduits underground. See: https://www.undergroundmagnetics.com/

In addition to the building investment, Underground Magnetics would create 4 new high-quality jobs and retain 12 full-time positions. The proposed Development Agreement would provide Underground Magnetics a 90% incremental property tax rebate for five years – not to exceed $803,290.00. The company is also seeking up $325,000.00 in assistance through the Iowa Economic Development Authority (in the form of investment tax credits and sales tax refunds for construction costs).

Speculative Mixed-Use Project For JTC Considered

2020 has been a difficult year for new commercial and retail developments, and it has been especially difficult for creating new space for the restaurant industry. Developers and communities have needed to show patience and make accommodations. The Johnston Town Center (JTC) project is no exception. With City Hall complete and project amenities and infrastructure moving forward in the summer of 2021 – there is a strong desire for commercial developments to come forward.

City staff have reported their findings that all developers are experiencing significant challenges with pre-signing tenants for proposed buildings. They have indicated that developers have had more success filling vacant existing spaces and therefore they believe that initiation of an initial commercial building is critical for the Town Center project success.

Hansen Real Estate and the City of Johnston are considering steps for kick-starting JTC commercial development by constructing a speculative building on the site -to be opened by the summer of 2022. Here are a few details.

The building would be a 13,500 square foot, two story, mixed use building located at the intersection of Merle Hay Road and NW 62nd Ave.

A development agreement incorporating the proposed terms would be drafted and considered by City Council in April or May of 2021. Possible details of development agreement for the speculative building are described in a February 26, 2021 memo from Hansen Real Estate to the City of Johnston.

Meanwhile, marketing efforts to secure a restaurant, brew-pub and other commercial tenants for the project continue. See https://johnstontowncenter.com/.

The timing of the proposed speculative building, coupled with these marketing efforts, may be right. Let’s hope the distribution of vaccines and the “re-opening” of the economy accelerate in these coming months.

Plans for new Windsor Office Park construction move forward

Plans for new construction in Windsor Office Park continue to move forward with the approval of a site plan for Impact 7G and the preparation of a Development Agreement with Setpoint Mechanical. The Development agreement with Setpoint would provide a forgivable loan in the amount of 50% of the increased assessed value (five years). A public hearing for the proposed development agreement is planned for the April 5, 2021 meeting of the City Council.

Impact 7G and Setpoint Mechanical will be neighbors as illustrated in this vicinity map. Design plans suggest that both facilities will provide added diversity and quality to architecture found in the Windsor Office Park development.

Trestle Bridge Project Approved – 2022

There was hope that the Trestle bridge reconstruction would occur in 2021, but trail users will have to be patient for a while longer. Because this is a multi-jurisdiction project, involving the City of Des Moines, Polk County, Polk County Conservation and the City of Johnston, and because some funding sources were associated with grant programs accessible through the Iowa Department of Transportation, it took longer to assemble the necessary funds. The general drag on everything caused by the pandemic may have also been a factor.

The government organizations have now established a 28E agreement to manage the $2 million project. Polk County Public Works will manage the project. The City of Johnston has committed up to $575,000.00 to the project, which includes $375,000.00 for various aesthetic improvements including lighting for the bridge and entrance features.

Johnston City Council Budget and Planning

Update – March 16, 2021: The Johnston City Council has finalized the Fiscal Year 2022 budget. Learn more here. City staff have prepared an infographic to summarize some of the highlights. Most of the information in this article, originally published on January 20, 2021, remains current. The main difference is that the City Council was able to maintain the property tax levy at $10.63 per $1,000 of valuation.


January is shaping up to be a big decision-making period for the Johnston City Council. On January 4, 2021 the Council approved the Capital Improvement Plan for the period of fiscal years 2022 through 2026. With this action the Council made the following decisions which will affect economic development  in Johnston:

  • Move forward with planning and construction of sanitary sewer service and water service extensions in the Beaver Creek Development Area (sometimes referred to as the NW annexation area) – if litigation with Xenia RRW can be resolved
  • Construct the NW Beaver Drive overlay
  • Complete the reconstruction of NW 54th between 86th street and 100th  street
  • Begin planning for the reconstruction of 100th street from 54th to 62nd Ave.
  • Construct the roadways required for the Ignit recreation complex – Johnston Drive west of Merle Hay Road
  • Proceed with several important community recreation and quality of life projects including the Trestle to Trestle bridge replacement, the public park associated with the Ignit project, the NW 86th street trail from 54th to 62nd Ave., and enhancements to Lew Clarkson Park, and much more

View the complete CIP plan here.

But there is much more. On January 19, 2021 the City Council held a work session to continue deliberations on the City’s fiscal year 2022 budget. A January 14, 2021 memo from City Administrator Jim Sanders and Assistant City Administrator Teresa Rotschafer provides detailed background information about the City budget, the impact of COVID-19 and the general economy on City revenues. It also describes the strategic priorities recommended by the various department heads. Staff budget recommendations are included in this memo. Planning will continue into February and culminate in the adoption of a new budget at a public hearing on March 15, 2021. Here are a few key points included in the staff recommendations.

  • A property tax rate of $10.69 per $1,000 of valuation was recommended. This would be an increase of $0.06 over the current year. There would be no change in the debt service levy
  • Property tax dollars collected would increase by $659,978.00 or 3.97%
  • The City would maintain a reserve of 24% of the general fund operating expenditures
  • The disposition of several development-related decision packages are addressed in a separate document. Items of interest include the following topics:
  1. A decision package to create a Project Development fund with an initial investment of $25,000.00 remains under consideration. Often development projects require special effort and in some cases would require outside technical assistance. This would provide a pool of resources to support this work
  2. A decision package to create a marketing plan and program for the Beaver Creek Development area (a.k.a. the NW annexation area – may be deferred until a future budget year)
  3. Staff requests to enhance GIS web mapping, purchase a large format multi-function device, and to purchase a high-quality video camera remain in the running for approval

Note: At the work work session the Council encouraged the City staff to explore other ways to fund certain decision packages with the goal of keeping the property tax rate at the current level: $10.63 per $1,000 of valuation. More discussion will occur before final decisions are made in March.

Readers interested in the City budget and topics related to economic development are encouraged to review these materials, and when appropriate to express viewpoints to Council members.


MidAmerican takes steps towards customer financial support

A recent press release from MidAmerican Energy Company assures Iowans that they are here to help after the effects of the February cold snap.

In light of the recent cold snap that affected most of the central U.S., JEDCO member MidAmerican Energy Company sent out a press release on Wednesday, February 24, detailing what they are doing to mitigate the financial impacts their customers may be anticipating. With so many already struggling from the effects of the pandemic, they understand a rising gas and electric bill are the last thing their customers want.

“We understand that many are worried about an upcoming sticker shock for February heating, so we’re doing everything we can to lessen the financial burden on our customers,” Mike Gehringer, MidAmerican’s vice president of customer operations, said.

What to expect

According to company projections, residential customers in Iowa are likely to see, on average, March bills $13 higher than in February.  Higher gas bills will continue throughout the year as the effect of this increase is spread across months. When comparing that to the five-year annual average of a MidAmerican residential gas bill of $566, customers will see an estimated average increase of $214, or the equivalent of approximately $18 per month.

This is a little different for commercial customers in Iowa. Their average March bill will likely be $95 higher than that of February’s. Again, when compared to the five-year annual average bill of $2,233, customers will see an estimated increase of $1,182, or the equivalent of approximately $98 per month. 

These increases are not insignificant, but they are substantially lower in relation to much of the central U.S. Especially the staggering cost hikes seen in Texas and other parts of the South where their infrastructure was less equipped for that kind of cold.

What is MidAmerican doing to help Iowans?

Something important to note is that MidAmerican supplies gas to its customers as a pass-through cost without a mark-up or profit. Due to this unusually strong winter demand and sudden decrease in natural gas production in the Southern U.S., it led to extreme market jumps. Increasing costs on both ends. 

However, MidAmerican’s underground gas storage, liquified natural gas storage and advance purchase contracts that locked in prices prior to this month’s events, helped mitigate market price impacts to customers. Shielding customers from more than $400 million in costs.

The company also filed a request late Wednesday, February 24 with the Iowa Utilities Board. In their request, MidAmerican asked the board to suspend a rule requiring the company to collect all the February heating costs during a limited billing window that currently ends in August.

In addition to this, the company plans to discuss additional proposals at a scheduled meeting with the Iowa Utilities Board on March 12. It will include extending the payback period for February’s higher heating costs beyond August.

What can Iowans do right now?

“For nearly a year, customers have been dealing with extraordinary circumstances that have taken their toll and stretched paychecks,” Gehringer said. “We don’t want these increased bill amounts caused by the cold weather to be another worry. There are resources available to help.” 

MidAmerican recommends, for those who qualify, to apply for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). It assists eligible low-income households with their heating and cooling energy costs, bill payment assistance, energy crisis assistance, weatherization and energy-related home repairs.

The company also sponsors its own residential payment assistance program, called I CARE, managed by community action agencies throughout its service area. Through this program, members of the community can donate what they have to help local community action agencies provide heating and bill assistance and home weatherization to those in need in their neighborhoods. 

Finally, MidAmerican also offers a Budget Billing Program to help customers ease bill fluctuations. It’s a free program for customers and simply averages utility charges that vary by changing seasons and different energy usage patterns. Customers can enroll by calling MidAmerican at 888-427-5632, or through the My Account link on the company’s website at www.MidAmericanEnergy.com.  

City Council Development Update

The Johnston City Council and staff taken several actions recently in support of developments in Johnston. Here are some key highlights.

  • Budget plans are nearly complete, and it appears the City will keep the property tax rate the same: $10.63 per $1,000 of valuation. City staff have prepared an infographic explaining the main budget initiatives including projects to be funded by the local option sales tax. For more information about the budget plans – see the January 20 post.
  • A 2021 Strategic Plan has been adopted by the Council. Economic development continues to be a priority with a focus on the Town Center, the Merle Hay Road gateway and reinvestment district, redevelopment in the NW 86th street commercial district, and infrastructure to support future development in the NW Beaver Creek Development Area (HWY 141 north). Expanding broadband access is also high on the list – although specifics are to be determined through the broadband visioning study currently underway and as the pending MetroNet build-out proceeds this year.
  • In correspondence with the economic development strategic plan, a new economic development staff position to work with City Economic Development Manager Adam Plagge is in the works. A specific timeline for the new hire has not been announced.
  • The ordinance amendment to allow for some additional activities in the Birchwood Crossing PUD has been completed. See the January 20 post.

City of Johnston Business Survey Takeaways

In conjunction with a community/citizen survey, the City recently sponsored a survey of Johnston businesses to gauge their opinions on topics such as the quality of city services, the impacts of COVID-19, broadband telecommunications services and rating the City as a place to do business. There were 80 Johnston business owners/managers who chose to have their voice heard. Sometimes it is difficult to discern what is important when viewing survey results, especially if you are looking for something that might be the basis for taking action. This is admittedly a somewhat subjective exercise, but here are a few messages we can get from these responses.

  • Eight-six percent of the respondents said that as a place to do business, Johnston was “excellent” or “good”. But 12% said Johnston was “average” and 1% said “poor.”

Takeaway – A wish that we had greater insight about what those 13% think should be done to make things better. And it is not just about City services. This is something to be explored.

  • Most respondents said that Johnston is “inclusive” and “welcoming to all people”. Two percent indicated the City is not very welcoming and inclusive, and 17% said they did not have an opinion. So, we’re good on that, right? Answer: probably not as much as we would like to think. The survey didn’t break down the race or ethnicity of respondents, so we don’t know how diverse the response pool was.

Takeaway – We should keep exploring this question. Conversations we have had with some of our major employers in recent years indicate that there is some work to do. The City Council’s recently adopted strategic plan includes this topic.  Specifically, it states that the community needs to “ensure that Johnston is a welcoming community, with a proactive Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Plan to support citizen/business engagement.” What will the tasks for achieving this goal be? It is still to be determined.

  • As with the City’s community survey, the business survey results suggest a high satisfaction with most City services. Notably, 12% of the respondents (remember this is a business survey) are dissatisfied with the availability of public transportation.

Takeaway – Again, we need more information. Are they referring to DART services from downtown to Johnston? Are they expressing a need for better access for their employees? Or are they just expressing a need for public transportation between the east and west sides of the community?

  • Fifty percent of the respondents say they are still experiencing distress as a result of COVID-19, and yet seventy-six percent say they are very prepared or prepared “to meet the needs of changing industry as a result of COVID‐19 and similar challenges that may occur in the future.”

Takeaway – One thing we observe in our day-to-day interactions with businesses is that there is resiliency and strength among business owners and managers. They work hard every day to survive and you can feel their hope for the future is strong. Nothing scientific about this. But the survey results do seem to reflect this condition.

  • Eighty-four percent of the respondents say they already have broadband services at their business, and twelve percent do not. That said, 32% of the respondents said that “it is very important that their internet service is improved, because their current service is not meeting their needs.”

Takeaway – Johnston has Century Link, Mediacom and now Metronet. Issue solved? Too soon to say. The community should complete the visioning study recently started, identify gaps in service, and explore solutions. To be competitive in the future – 100% broadband access should be the goal, and in the process, maybe there should be a conversation about what speeds are required to meet those business and community needs.

Think you might reach some different conclusions? You can download the report and identify your own takeaways.



Merle Hay Gateway Reinvestment District

Johnston Seeks Support for MHR Gateway Master Plan

In 2013 the City of Johnston undertook a significant Master Planning and public engagement project for a 123 acre area called the Merle Hay Road Gateway. Following this effort, the City submitted a portion of the area to be admitted to the 2014 inaugural round of the State’s Iowa Reinvestment District Program. 

The program allows a portion of new sales, service and hotel and motel tax to be collected within the district for use within a Reinvestment District for up to 20 years. The City’s submission was not approved in favor of other projects at the time. Since then the City has undertaken multiple projects that were laid out in the 2013 Master Planning project in the Gateway area. Such projects already finished or underway are: Terra Park & Terra Lake, two kayak launch installations, planned dedication of land for a dog park, trail investments, proposed Merle Hay Road and Johnston Drive improvements, the proposed Ignit project and more. Click here for a document summarizing the full timeline of the Master Planning project and what may be expected in the next couple of years. 

In 2020, the State funded the Reinvestment District program with $100 million for the first time since 2014. The City then put together a new Reinvestment District pre-application for a 75-acre area in the Gateway District. For a map of the proposed area click here. The intention of the pre-application is to lay out the City’s vision for the Reinvestment District, provide as much detail as possible on possible projects and identify funding gaps. 

The City is requesting $4,399,740 to help fund gaps for potential projects identified in the pre-application and to advance Phase I of the Gateway Plan. With two other applicants asking for $30 million each, the competition for funding is expected to be fierce. 

This Reinvestment District area will include future projects such as:

  • Ignit Sports and Fitness:  which is expected to generate 396,396 visitors annually; 71,898 of these annual visitors are expected to arrive from over 150+ miles away. Catch Des Moines estimates the overall direct annual economic impact at $57,000,000. This can be found in the Economic Impact section of the pre-application.
  • Gateway Park: Proposed City park, trail and road infrastructure improvements supporting the Ignit facility and adjoining Reinvestment District properties.
  • Western Gateway: Proposed hotel and commercial development integrated with Ignit and connected through Gateway Park improvements.
  • Central Kayak Launch: Proposed City infrastructure improvements to include historic sign renovation, construction of a central kayak launch, a sports rental facility, and a relocation site for the Inter-Urban rail building (currently located on Johnston Drive east of the bike trail).
  • Eastern Gateway: Proposed mixed-use development including an ecological themed hotel capitalizing on the Central Kayak Launch improvements.
  • Heard Gardens Mixed-Use: A proposed mixed-use redevelopment site located east of Merle Hay and north of Johnston Drive.
  • Western Parcels: Key commercial properties with private redevelopment or renovation opportunities benefiting from proposed infrastructure improvements.

This plan will also economically benefit the majority of the sub-areas that are either underdeveloped or undeveloped. An independent economic impact analysis is planned to be completed prior to submission of a final application. So there is more to be included if the City’s pre-application is advanced. The City plans to invest a total of $122 million in the areas natural amenities as described in the Master Planning project.

One of the challenges for the project is a requirement that the City prove that the district is “unique in nature”:

‘“Unique nature” means a quality or qualities of the projects to be developed in a district which, when considered in the entirety, will substantially distinguish the district’s projects from other existing or proposed developments in the state.”

In the pre-application, the City notes that the district will contrast traditional auto-centric commercial development and be a unique multi-modal district to the metro and Iowa. It will reinvigorate the Merle Hay Corridor, connecting the Johnston Town Center and Merle Hay Mall districts. This would then create an environment and opportunity for commercial development to thrive while maintaining and enhancing the natural resources in the area that will distinguish this project as being truly unique. Ultimately, benefiting the local, regional and state economy.

According to the Iowa Economic Development website, pre-applications will be scored and approved by the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) Board. This process is designed to allow applicants to make reasonable changes to the proposed district plan before the final application is considered. Final applications are then due prior to next years application filing window. As the applications move forward, the City will continue to update the Johnston community and area developers.


MetroNet Construction Plans Underway: Information Shared with Residents

MetroNet facilitated a community meeting on Wednesday, February 17, to answer any questions surrounding the development and installation of MetroNet fiber optics in the City of Johnston. Here are some of the important topics discussed during the meeting:

MetroNet began construction efforts in the City of Johnston in December 2020. Residents were made aware that there are a series of communication alerts that residents will receive from MetroNet before they come to their area for installation.

    • A letter letting residents know that they will be coming to their area in the next 30 days and what to expect. 
    • A construction postcard, notifying the resident of construction in the area. 
    • An easement flyer notifying residents that they may need to enter onto private property to get to the easement. 
    • An underground utilities flyer. which encourages the residents to let MetroNet know of any underground utilities in their yards, so they can avoid damaging those when digging.

Johnston residents can find out when they are coming to their neighborhood by checking out the interactive map on their website. The map represents MetroNet’s first set of planned construction areas. Additional planned construction areas will be added on an ongoing basis as their plans develop. MetroNet offers fiber television technology, high-speed Gigabit Internet, and local and long distance phone service. They have a variety of different packages to meet residents needs. To learn more about their services and pricing, click here to visit their website. For those who choose to pre-sign with one of their plans, they will be first to be installed when MetroNet starts construction in their area.

MetroNet will have permanent people stationed in the area (technicians and a storefront). Employees will follow COVID-19 Precautions during the installation process. All workers will wear masks, gloves, disposable booties (if entering your house), sanitize their equipment between jobs, social distance, and sanitize areas that might have been touched after finishing the job.

Watch this video from the City of Johnston to learn more!

Recent City Council and Planning & Zoning Updates

The Johnston City Council and Planning and Zoning Commission have taken several actions recently in support of developments in Johnston.

  • Initiated an ordinance amendment to allow for some additional activities in the Birchwood Crossing PUD. Specifically, the Industrial Commerce Park District uses would be permitted for Parcel D located on the eastern edge of the development. More specifically, outdoor storage would be allowed as a use at 7901 Birchwood Court – with requirements for screening and placement.
  • Approved a site plan submitted by SETPOINT Mechanical Solutions for the construction of an 8,861 square foot office/warehouse building at 8951 Thomas Avenue in Windsor Office Park. The site is adjacent to AKC Marketing and will also be a neighbor to Impact7G.
  • Awarded a $2.76 million contract for the construction of the NW Beaver Drive overlay. The project would resurface NW Beaver Drive from Merle Hay Road to NW 48th Street, and would include a 10 foot wide shared use path along the northeast side of NW Beaver Drive from Merle Hay Road to the intersection with NW 66th Avenue.

Virtual Annual Meeting: Recording & Event Recap

As JEDCO kicks off 2021 it is important to reflect back on 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic may consume the thoughts of many when they think back on the past year, but the City of Johnston has plenty of Economic Development accomplishments to be proud of in 2020! Each year the Annual Meeting provides JEDCO and the City of Johnston with an opportunity to share the previous years accomplishments with the development community. In addition to looking back on the year both JEDCO and the city are able to provide a look ahead to expected development in the coming year.

This year the Annual Development Meeting was held virtually on Thursday, January 14th at 4:00 PM. The meeting was a live webinar which included a JEDCO Business Meeting and Board of Directors election. Congratulations to re-elected board members Grant Taylor (The Hansen Company), Ross Harris (SEH) and Brian Erickson (Knapp Properties, Inc.). Congratulations to newly elected board member Dave Melling (First National Bank). 

JEDCO provided a recap of activities in 2020 and a preview of 2021 activities. Information regarding the upcoming broadband for business forum was shared. Adam Plagge, City of Johnston Economic Development Manager closed with an update on development activity in Johnston as well as an overview of the Annual Development Report. Thank you to those who joined us for the live meeting and webinar.  If you were unable to attend you can listen to the webinar recording or download the webinar presentation for review.