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Driving development: Golf course spurs growth in Polk City


POLK CITY – On Thursday, a gallery of approximately 300 people watched as legendary golfer Arnold Palmer tapped in a putt on the 18th green at the Tournament Club of Iowa during grand opening festivities. But developers, city officials and local business owners are betting that Iowa’s first signature golf course will induce thousands of golf enthusiasts and hundreds of home buyers to spend money in Polk City.

“This entire project is good for the community and the state of Iowa,” said Palmer. “It’s something you can all be very proud of, and it will carry a great tradition with it.”

Palmer said as the TCI’s reputation grows, so, too, will the number of visitors to Polk City. “I think as people play here, they’ll tell other people to come play here, and that will benefit the community,” he said.

Dave Curtis, president of the Polk City Chamber of Commerce, said the addition of the Tournament Club of Iowa bolsters Polk City’s reputation as “The City for All Seasons.” He said city officials work hard to make Polk City the recreational center of Central Iowa, as more than 4 million people travel here to visit Big Creek State Park, Saylorville Lake and Jester Park Golf Course.

“This was already a fine recreation area anyway, but this is a great addition,” he said. “It will generate additional traffic to this community.”  Developed by Knapp Properties Inc. and Northfield, Minn.-based Enebak Construction Co. and its golf affiliate, Tradition Development LLC, the 570-acre golf course community includes a 300-acre Arnold Palmer signature golf course and 270 acres of land that will hold 500 single-family houses and townhomes.

The golf course opened for play in June, and the initial phase of housing development is ahead of schedule, said Bill Knapp II, chairman and chief executive officer of Knapp Properties. “We’re very pleased with the activity,” he said. “We have a beautiful piece of land that is perfect for a golf course and housing, and the Palmer name is a big draw for those who play golf or who want to live near a course.”

To date, 85 of the 117 available lots have been sold to builders such as Mastercraft Estate Homes and Regency Homes; 10 homes have been sold; and 25 homes are under construction. Knapp said the TCI would include two townhouse developments, one with 45 units priced from $300,000 to $400,000 and another with 150 units priced from $150,000 to $250,000.

Though the golf course is expected to attract high-end home buyers, the inclusion of residential tax increment finance funding established by Polk City and Polk County will benefit less afluent homeowners. Knapp said 36.8 percent of TIF funds, which would generate approximately $8 million, will be used to help renovate or build affordable housing.

“That speaks well of the elected officials to make sure they have a balanced community,” Knapp said.

Mike Sparks, Polk City city administrator, said Polk City has experienced significant growth in the last three years, including the addition of 181 housing units and approximately 150 residents, boosting its population to about 2,500 residents.

“The addition of the TCI greatly enhances our reputation as a recreation destination,” he said. “We’re convinced the next census will probably rank us as one of the fastest-growing cities in Iowa.”

A study conducted by various state and city groups reported that $17 million was spent during 2000-2001 on direct sales to tourism-related businesses in Polk City. Those sales generated approximately $8 million in personal income to Polk City residents and supported nearly 400 jobs.

Mayor Mary Burton said city government officials work hard to attract quality developments to Polk City. “We’re a forward-thinking council,” she said. “Even without a specific project being planned, we want to stay ahead of the curve. We try to bring infrastructure to where it’s needed.”

Already, the TCI has spurred plans for a new street in Polk City. The city received a $900,000 RISE (Revitalize Iowa’s Strong Economy) grant to develop Parker Boulevard. City officials hope to secure a bid for construction of the $3 million project by October with hopes of opening the road next August. Parker Boulevard will contain three round-abouts and will include high-end and moderately priced housing, as well as neighborhood businesses.

City officials are in search of a much-needed grocery store and medical services, adding that the street will link the downtown square to the golf course.

“That project has been a comprehensive plan for 25 years, but when the course was built, it made it a priority item,” Curtis said.

Burton said retailers are excited about the golf course’s arrival, adding it can only increase business. “They don’t feel threatened by it,” she said. “The more people that come to the course, the more money is spent in Polk City.”

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