EP Award Promo

Iowa’s certified sites draw new development to state

Woodward’s certified site helped bring a massive warehouse project, officials say


When Marketa Oliver was interviewed for Bondurant’s city administrator job, interviewers asked how she would improve the balance among commercial, industrial and residential land valuations. 

Oliver was prepared with an answer: Pursue state site certification that, when achieved, tells a potential developer that property is ready for development, she said.  

Oliver was familiar with the state program. When she was Norwalk’s city manager, the community gained state site certification for a 55-acre tract west of Iowa Highway 28. The certified site helped the community attract Windsor Windows and Doors Inc. and Michael Foods, she said.

“It’s an investment of both time and money,” Oliver said of the site certification process. “Basically, what you’re doing in the process is the due diligence for a prospective developer. … When people come and develop, they don’t want to develop in two or three years; they want to develop now.”

Just as Bondurant was completing the certification process in mid-2019, a representative for retail giant Amazon Inc. inquired about building a fulfillment center in the community of about 7,500 residents. Forty-seven days after the initial meeting between Bondurant officials and those from Ryan Cos., the developer representing Amazon, dirt was being moved on land at 500 32nd St. S.W. 

The center, which cost an estimated $250 million to develop, opened in December 2020.

“When we first met with them, their timeline was very important to them,” Oliver said. Because the site was certified, “we had already done the endangered species study; we’d done the wetlands delineation; we’d done the architectural survey. … Moving that fast would not have been possible had we not had all of those other pieces in place already.”

The Iowa Certified Site Program was launched by the Iowa Economic Development Authority in May 2012 to address the lack of project-ready industrial sites in the state. The state has 26 certified sites that range in size from 67 acres to 890 acres, with three others going through the process. Since the program began, it has attracted more than $1.38 billion in capital investment due to the availability of these development-ready sites.

The Iowa Certified Site Program is an independent, third-party certification program that uses the nationally recognized site selection firm Quest Site Solutions as the certifying agent. While similar certification programs exist in other states, Iowa officials believe Iowa’s program is the most robust, said Amy Kuhlers, program manager for the Iowa Certified State Program.

“Every site that is going to go under development, there’s certain things that have to happen before that project can begin turning dirt,” she said. The property needs access to utilities including gas, electrical, water, wastewater and telecommunications. Surveys need to be completed, including architectural to ensure artifacts are not disturbed. In addition, private landowners must sign five-year agreements to sell their land if an offer is made.

All of that takes time, Kuhlers said. Iowa’s certification process typically takes up to 16 months to complete. Once a site is certified, development on the site can usually begin within three to six months, she said.

Most developers don’t want to wait two or more years before starting construction, Ehlers said. “A lot of times, time is of the essence. … For Amazon’s project in Bondurant, that was a key factor for them. The site had just gone through the certification process and everything was done and ready to go.”

A similar scenario occurred recently in Woodward, a community located in northeast Dallas County. In recent weeks, backers of a potential development approached Dallas County economic officials and those in the city about building a massive warehouse in the Woodward Eco-Business Park, located on 190 acres south of Iowa Highway 141 and east of Iowa Highway 210. The site received state certification in 2018.

People who were told about the project signed nondisclosure agreements that bar them from divulging the company behind the proposed development. However, all signs point to Amazon as the company behind it.

Alex Lynch, executive director of the Greater Dallas County Development Alliance, said inquiries have increased in recent months about potential development in the county’s three sites that are certified. (The others are located in Van Meter and Perry.)

“With those inquiries, the turnaround time has been very, very tight – they wanted information in three or so days,” Lynch said. “The fact that we have these sites that are certified means that we’re able to respond to those inquiries. Communities that don’t already have that information usually can’t respond as quickly or at all.”

Lynch, who signed a nondisclosure agreement about the proposed development in Woodward, said, “Having a certified site has been important for Project Hawk.”

Project Hawk is the code name for the proposed development, which backers want completed by September 2022. 

In mid-October, the Woodward City Council approved the site plan for a 1,080,300-square-foot building with 98 loading docks, and parking stalls for 392 trailers and 727 vehicles. The development would be located on 120 acres in the business park.

Details of a development agreement between the city and the company behind Project Hawk are being finalized, Lynch said. Land acquisitions are also being completed, he said. According to the site plan approved by the Woodward council, property owners include DBBL Partnership, Larry Frantum and Midwest Oilseeds Inc. 

Spokespeople for Amazon have declined to comment on whether the company plans to build a warehouse in Woodward. Asked if the Seattle-based company favors developing on certified sites, a spokesperson wrote: “There are a lot of contributing factors that go into our thought process on where to place a new fulfillment center.” 

Woodward to apply for state RISE grant

The Woodward City Council at its Oct. 11 meeting approved a resolution to apply for an Iowa Department of Transportation RISE (Revitalize Iowa’s Sound Economy) grant that would help pay for the addition of turn lanes at the interchange of Iowa Highways 141 and 210. The grant will pay for up to 80% of the improvement costs. The city has not yet filed an application, according to state officials.

In 2019, the city of Bondurant received a RISE grant that covered a majority of the more than $12 million in improvements made to 32nd Street Southwest and Grant Street South. An Amazon Inc. fulfillment center is located at 500 32nd St. S.W.

Projects Bluejay and Hawk similarities

All signs point to Amazon Inc. being behind the more than 1 million-square-foot warehouse and distribution center proposed for a business park in Woodward. The Seattle-based retail giant opened a fulfillment center in Bondurant in December 2020. The Bondurant project was shrouded in secrecy for several months before Amazon acknowledged it was behind the $250 million project. Here are similarities between the two projects:

Code name: The Bondurant project was dubbed Project Bluejay, a nod to the Bondurant-Farrar High School mascot. The Woodward project is called Project Hawk. The Woodward-Granger High School mascot is a hawk.

Engineer: Veenstra & Kimm Inc., an engineering consulting firm located in West Des Moines, was the engineer for the Bondurant project. The Woodward City Council on Oct. 11 approved a contract with the company to work on Project Hawk.

General contractor: Ryan Cos., based in Minneapolis, was the general contractor for the Bondurant project. It is listed on the site plan for Project Hawk.

Public improvements engineer: Shive-Hattery Architecture and Engineering, with offices across Iowa, worked on the Bondurant project and is listed on the site plan for Project Hawk.

Employees: Most Amazon fulfillment centers hire 1,000 or more workers. The facility in Woodward is expected to employ 1,000 or more people.

Facebook Notice for EU! You need to login to view and post FB Comments!

forvis web 061022 300x250