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Indianola residents face decisions on growth


In some residential areas along the outskirts of Indianola, the staccato of nail guns and the rumble of earthmoving equipment have become as familiar as the roar of hot-air balloonists’ burners as they float by, or the engine noise from the Friday night figure-8 car races at the fairgrounds.

Along Jefferson Avenue through the city’s commercial district, however, the sounds of construction are far less common, and a strip center built a year ago in a highly visible location on the northern edge of town is just now announcing a second tenant. At the same time, though, the town square is filled with a variety of niche retailers, with few empty storefronts.

Residents can enjoy a first-run movie in stadium seating at the recently expanded Paramount Theatre, ride miles of paved bike trails or walk to a performance of the Des Moines Metro Opera on the Simpson College campus, but they have to travel to Des Moines to find a bowling alley or a large selection of sit-down restaurants. Plans are under way to begin construction of a new public library and YMCA next year to serve a population that’s expected to grow by 30 percent over the next 20 years.

Young business owners in Indianola share a sense of optimism sprinkled with frustration about the city, which despite residential growth has so far seen limited expansion in its retail base.

“Indianola seems to be growing tremendously,” said Aaron Warner, who a year ago with her twin sister, Brooke, bought the town’s soda fountain, The Corner Sundry, to keep the 55-year-old enterprise alive. Business is steady with the summer heat and a schedule of events that bring people to their town square location, but Warner admits their initial expectations about the business were low. Still, she’s upbeat about Indianola.

“It’s a great place to raise your kids,” she said. “It has a small-town atmosphere, but there are still things to do.”

Ben Carpenter, who with his wife, Jaime, opened Hometown Health Foods on the square nearly four years ago, said their niche business has survived by offering products the mass retailers don’t provide. An electrician by trade, the 30-year-old entrepreneur last year opened his second Indianola business, a Frosted Rock Creamery franchise on Jefferson Avenue.

“We really love Indianola,” he said. “It just needs more of the little things you can get in Des Moines. I don’t know why more people don’t step up and say, ‘We’re going to carry things that the big retailers don’t carry.’”

Meanwhile, one of the newest retail projects along Jefferson Avenue nearly didn’t happen because of the difficulty of working with the city’s planning and zoning commission, said Casey Campbell, who is developing a double lot he owns for a 4,800-square-foot retail building. A portion of the building has already been leased by a Quizno’s franchisee, and the remaining 3,000-square-foot space is available for lease.

“It wasn’t an easy process,” said Campbell, whose property was partially zoned residential. “It took us just about 10 years to get it rezoned commercial.”

Corridor development sought

Home to Simpson College and once largely a farming community, Indianola is being reshaped by a growing influx of residents who commute daily on U.S. Highway 65-69 to work in downtown Des Moines, or who use the Highway 5 bypass to reach office complexes in West Des Moines.

Last year, the city issued permits for 77 new single-family homes valued at $13.3 million, compared with 66 projects valued at $10.6 million in 2003. Thirty-two multifamily units valued at more than $7 million were also added, up from $2.3 million in multifamily construction the previous year.

“We’ve had what I’d call a nice, moderate pace of growth,” said City Clerk Todd Kielkopf, who also serves as vice president of the Indianola Alliance, which was formed last year in an effort to unify the city’s economic development efforts. “We have land that’s available for development, we’re constantly adding lots, and our highway corridor is seeing good interest in people wanting to locate there.”

One of the alliance’s goals is to attract new development along both sides of the Highway 65-69 corridor north of the city up to the auto dealerships, Kielkopf said. Next year, sewer lines will be extended to complete the infrastructure already in place with municipal water lines that have been built to the north.

The city plans to hold a second annual developers’ day on Sept. 13 to market Indianola to prospective developers.

“We’re trying to attract a large office complex, perhaps a satellite office of a large employer that might have some specialty retail,” Kielkopf said. “That would be our ideal tenant on at least one major piece that would at get the ball rolling.”

Additionally, the Indianola Alliance is in the early stages of implementing a plan to expand the city’s fiber-optic network and offer those services to a wider range of businesses and households. Currently, the fiber network connects Indianola’s schools, city and county offices and Indianola Industrial Park tenants. The proposed enhanced services would provide users with a menu of new services, including municipally owned local and long-distance telephone service and high-speed data services.

Votes will determine funding sources

As plans for several new economic development and quality-of-life projects such as the library move forward, residents and business leaders face several decisions over the next few months about how to pay for the projects.

Through July, volunteers will be knocking on doors in the city’s newest housing developments for a special census. City officials believe the effort, which will cost about $66,000, will verify that at least 700 additional residents have moved to Indianola since the 2000 census. The city expects to gain about $300,000 in added gasoline tax revenues over the next five years from the updated count.

Indianola’s residential growth has created pressure on its city services and recreational amenities. On Aug. 23, residents will vote on a $4.5 million bond issue to pay for a proposed expansion to the municipal building to create more working space for the police and fire departments, as well as to renovate the building’s customer service areas.

In March, residents will return to the polls to decide whether to impose a 1 percent regional sales tax. Among the projects the tax may fund is a proposed relocation of the public library, along with a YMCA facility that would serve all Warren County communities. Both facilities would be co-located on the southeast side of the city, near the corner of 15th Street and Iowa Highway 92, just east of Indianola Middle School.

The tax, if agreed to by a majority of cities in Warren, Dallas and Polk counties next spring, would raise an estimated $71.5 million in additional annual sales tax revenues within the three-county area. Earlier this year, the Indianola City Council signed a memorandum of understanding in which it agreed to participate in the proposal, which was originated by the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s Project Destiny initiative.

Under the initiative, each participating city would share the revenues, with the ability to use up to 65 percent of the money to reduce their debt levies, pay for new capital projects or reduce property taxes.The remaining 35 percent would be allocated by a regional panel to selected cultural projects.

YMCA, library to co-locate

The decision to relocate the library, which has been in various locations adjacent to downtown for its entire 121-year history, was a difficult one for the library board and City Council, said Library Director Joyce Godwin.

“I think that was always the assumption by the public, and certainly it was the hope of the library board that an expansion would work,” she said. “But the more we looked at building options, we all realized how landlocked we are, and that’s a problem of a growing community. Ideally, you want all the space to be all on one block. And even if we could, we would be landlocked for future growth.”

Following a series of public design workshops held last fall, the library board provided a series of concepts to Engberg Anderson Design Partnership, a Milwaukee-based architectural firm that’s designing the building in conjunction with Shiffler Associates of Des Moines, which designed the renovation of the Temple for the Performing Arts.

Those plans for the new 30,000-square foot building, which would replace the existing 11,250-square-foot facility, should be ready to review this summer, Godwin said. Construction could begin in the spring of 2007, provided the tax measure passes in March. The cost of the project is expected to be between $7 million and $8 million, about the same as an expansion would have cost, she said.

At the same time, the library is working with the Indianola Parks and Recreation Department to determine whether the library and Y should be located in separate buildings, or share one combined facility, said Glen Cowan, the city’s parks and recreation director.

“Once we get that determined, we’ll go back to the City Council to review the layout and design so they can formally what they want to take to the public,” Cowan said. The referendum in March will be to decide whether there will be a tax increase, with a probable use of the library-YMCA project as an example of how the funds would be used, he said. The cost of a stand-alone Y facility is estimated to be between $5.5 million and $6.2 million; officials aren’t sure yet what the cost of a combined facility might be, Cowan said.

The new library would provide significantly more space for children’s programs and material, increase the number of computer and Internet-access stations and provide four small-group study rooms as well as a larger central area for community meetings, Godwin said. Both the Y and library projects are important economic development tools, she said.

“I had a businessman tell me the other day, ‘If you’re considering moving to town, you look at the schools, the library and the recreational facilities that are available to the family.’” she said. “I always thought that was true, but it was nice to hear it from someone else.”

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