Do’s and Don’ts of city development

Urbandale City Councilman Mike Carver sure opened the floodgates at our recent Commercial Real Estate Trends and Issues Forum. Carver, who is also vice president at NAI Optimum, asked our panel of developers for not one, but two things that cities could do to assist with commercial development. They were happy to oblige, of course.

Do have a sense of urgency and get the right people at the table from the start, said Chris Murray, president and CEO of Denny Elwell Co.

Don’t have city staff members who have combative attitudes that ultimately make developers’ lives tougher than they need to be, said Rick Tollakson, president and CEO of Hubbell Realty Co. Do “get rid of them” Tollakson half-joked, if they don’t have a can-do attitude. Having one or two negative staff members can alter the perception that everybody has about your city.

Do reduce barriers to development and make sure your staff understands that what might not seem like a barrier to them, could be to developers, said Jackie Nickolaus, vice president of development at Sherman Associates Inc. Do be flexible, innovative and creative when figuring out how to overcome those barriers. Murray agreed, especially  when it comes to redeveloping buildings and areas that are depressed and have exhausted their economic life span. If, he said, you are inflexible with certain rules, those areas will become, or will continue to be,  eyesores in the community. It will also cause developers to build new rather than mess with a mess of rules. The city that is most flexible is going to have the most redevelopment in their communities, he said.

Do focus on the short-term issues above, but don’t forget about the long term either, said Jake Christensen, president of Christensen Development. He urged city leaders to help make the types of decisions that will benefit their cities that developers can’t make - infrastructure, for example.

Finally, do make a commitment to infrastructure, said Gerry Neugent, president and chief operating officer of Knapp Properties Inc. He compared the impact that sound infrastructure planning had on development around Jordan Creek Town Center to the long, slow development along Westown Parkway. Around Jordan Creek, infrastructure was out ahead of development, which helped lead to the Aviva USA and Wells Fargo & Co. campuses, whereas over the course of 20 years, the city had to build additional lanes and infrastructure as development was occurring along Westown Parkway.

The Highway 5 development mystery

Ponder this question: Does it take longer to drive from downtown Des Moines to Norwalk City Hall or West Des Moines City Hall? Keep reading and I’ll have your answer. At the event, the question was asked: Why hasn’t development along the Iowa Highway 5/U.S. Highway 65 cooridor taken off? Neugent pointed to the bridge that went in at Mills Civic Parkway as a reason for all the development moving to the west, setting back development of the West Des Moines land around the bypass by about seven to 10 years. He did say the new Microsoft Corp. project and the infrastructure it will bring could change that. He wasn’t sure why the Des Moines portion hadn’t developed, though he said it hasn’t been for his company’s lack of trying. Tollakson pointed to people’s perception of the area. Norwalk, for example is viewed as being very far from the Des Moines area simply because people aren’t driving around that area very often. He’s right. Google Maps reports it takes 18 minutes to get from downtown to Norwalk City Hall. It takes 17 minutes to get to West Des Moines City Hall and 17 minutes to travel between the two city halls. Tollakson said Hubbell is seeing more activity in Norwalk and Carlisle and at a faster pace than before, but that it will still take a while to see more development. The potential interstate designation for the highway could also be a potential boon. Read more here.

Low-income housing

Creighton Cox, executive officer for the Home Builders Association of Greater Des Moines, posed a question about whether the area was meeting the demand for affordable housing, especially since lately there has been an increase in the number of market-rate apartments. In Tollakson’s words, “we’ve barely scratched the needs of solving affordable housing in our community.” He pointed to Des Moines’ aging housing units and the challenge that presents, but said it’s going to take money to solve the problem and we need to find a solution. Regardless, the demand is there. Nickolaus echoed Tollakson, also pointing to a tightening in funding for low-income housing, but she highlighted something I knew, but maybe hadn’t considered fully. Nickolaus talked about the bias against low-income housing, particularly in the suburbs, likely due to the name itself. After the event, Des Moines City Councilwoman Christine Hensley reiterated emphatically the effect that the stigma has on quelling low-income housing developments. 

Boarding pass for sale

First it was drinks, then luggage, then your preferred seat. Now it’s your boarding pass. Beginning May 1, Allegiant Air quietly and with no press began charging passengers $5 per boarding pass per flight segment if the airline has to print out the boarding pass.  There’s no warning when you buy your ticket. I only found out because a flight attendant on a recent flight encouraged us to download an app, so we don’t have to pay. So, yes, you can download the free app or print it off at home, but this presents issues for some customers. I’ve flown Allegiant for about a decade, and I’ve generally defended the airline’s a la carte pricing for things I don’t actually need - after all, it keeps my ticket price down. This, seems a bit different, since the boarding pass is required to, you know, board. What’s next? A fee to get off the plane? Read my full thoughts here.