Pieces are falling in place in Ankeny's Prairie Trail
Monday, April 16, 2012 2:22 PM
Prairie Trail timeline
The Iowa Legislature decides that the sprawling Iowa State University Research Farm in Ankeny is inhibiting the city’s growth and approves selling the land.
The city of Ankeny buys the nearly 1,100-acre property for $20 million, then sells it for the same amount to Dennis Albaugh’s DRA Properties LC, which was selected as the master developer for the Prairie Trail project.
The city of Ankeny and DRA Properties release a master plan for Prairie Trail, conceived as a community within a community, with commercial, retail and residential space, schools, libraries, government buildings and recreational opportunities.
Construction begins on the high-tech Ankeny Police Station in Prairie Trail; site preparation begins for a town center; Albaugh announces the Prairie Trail Scholarship Fund for residents of the development.
The first homes are built at Precedence, a residential development at Prairie Trail, and a park is dedicated; construction begins on the first buildings in Campus Town at Prairie Trail, located near Des Moines Area Community College. One is the 57,000-square-foot FFA Enrichment Center, and nearby is the 30,000-square-foot Iowa Soybean Association headquarters. They are completed in 2010. Albaugh and Stein Seed Co. founder Harry Stein donated land valued at $1.2 million for the Soybean Association headquarters. Ground is broken for an Ankeny Community School District high school, one of three schools planned for Prairie Trail.
Georgia-based TerreMark Partners Inc.is chosen as the developer of The District, Prairie Trail’s town center, with plans for retail, entertainment and civic buildings. The $17.5 million police station opens, complete with the state’s only indoor tactical firing range.
Cascade Park aquatic center opens. Dean Park, named after Albaugh’s father, is dedicated. Mercy Clinics Inc. and Iowa Health Physicians and Clinics both begin construction on new buildings in Plaza Shoppes and State Street Plaza. Ground is broken for the first building at Vintage Business Park.
Ground is broken for an elementary school. Family-owned Mouton & Associates Realtors Inc. and Classic Builders Inc. buy a lot and construct an office building.The first retail building in Plaza Shoppes opens, with the majority of space leased.
Waiting to sign on the dotted line. There are prospects for a medical services building and more retail stores, 50 residential lots will be ready for building, and the city of Ankeny will complete work on a short section of Southwest 18th Street that will allow provide an east-to-west connection along the northern section of Prairie Trail.
Prairie Trail in Ankeny was launched as a land of possibilities, and it still is.
The Great Recession might have slowed the pace of development at the nearly 1,100-acre site planned as a community within a community, but slowed is the operative word.
In recent months, Iowa Health Physicians and Clinics and Mercy Clinics Inc. opened medical facilities, a family-owned real estate and construction business bought land and built its headquarters, the first retail building in a key commercial area is 66 percent occupied and another has no vacancies.
The ingredients of a self-contained community are in place, and don’t forget, Prairie Trail is in the heart of a city of 45,000 people that continues to draw attention from developers, corporations and plenty of you’s-and-me’s looking for a place in which to live, raise a family, or retire. Did we mention that Prairie Trails also features an elaborate retirement community?
The pace of development has not kept up with expectations, said Ted Rapp, project coordinator for Dennis Albaugh’s DRA Properties LC, which was chosen by the city of Ankeny to develop the property, the former site of an Iowa State University research farm.
On the residential side, there are homes on 95 of the 150 lots in the Precedence residential area. To the east, seven homes have been built in the Heritage residential area, and another 24 lots are available. Construction will start there on three more houses in the next month. In addition, another 50 lots will be ready for building activity by the end of May.
Prairie Trail was announced by the city and DRA Properties in 2006, with a master plan that included commercial, retail and residential properties, schools, libraries, government buildings and recreational opportunities.
Rapp said he would have imagined that at least 300 homes would have been built by now.
Still, business owners, home builders and development companies are kicking the tires, at the very least. Rapp and Marcus Pitts, a vice president with Ruhl & Ruhl Commercial Co., the listing agent for the commercial properties at Prairie Trail, can rattle of a list of potential builders and tenants.
Hy-Vee Inc. is expected to announce at some point its plans for a property it purchased in 2010 in Prairie Trail.
Rapp said it would be a mistake to wait on residential construction alone to provide the momentum for more commercial development.
He is quick to point out the fact that a sizable community already surrounds Prairie Trail, one that can provide plenty of customers.
“There are a lot of people here already,” Rapp said. “Growth can’t be dictated by how many houses are at Prairie Trail.”
In addition, Rapp and Pitts said an announcement is expected soon for the construction of apartments for students at Des Moines Area Community College, located just south of Prairie Trail.
Another commercial building is being considered for the Plaza Shops area of the development, and a medical support building is a possibility for land near the Iowa Health clinic.
Still waiting for its first foundation is The District, an area conceived as the town center, complete with restaurants, retail stores, entertainment and civic buildings.
The land has been graded and utilities are in place, as are a sanitary sewer and a water main.
“I think the terminology is that we are still waiting to get momentum” for the area, Rapp said.
During a recent luncheon for Greater Des Moines real estate brokers, Rapp and Pitts were optimistic that momentum was building as the metro area continues to recover from the recession.
A development with its own scholarship fund
In 2007, Dennis and Susan Albaugh announced a scholarship fund for Prairie Trail residents that would provide grants of up to $10,000 for college education.
The scholarships were first awarded in 2010, and have included $1,000 grants for students who do not live in Prairie Trail
The Albaughs provided $100,000 in seed money, with the balance of the funds generated by a fee of 0.5 percent on the sale of real estate within Prairie Trail.