Growth Alliance shares updates

-Messenger photo by Michaela Frerichs
From left, Webster County Supervisor Mark Campbell, Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance CEO Dennis Plautz, and Fort Dodge City Manager David Fierke answer questions from the audience at the quarterly Growth Alliance luncheon.

Work on the Corridor Plaza and recent announcements of businesses leaving the area were a hot topic of discussion at the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance Meet and Eat luncheon Thursday.

The Growth Alliance held its quarterly update luncheon Thursday at Fort Dodge Ford Lincoln Toyota. Community leaders David Fierke, city manager, Mark Campbell, Webster County supervisor, and Dennis Plautz, CEO of the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance; answered questions about progress in the area from downtown development to construction around the county.

A popular inquiry from the audience was the progress of Corridor Plaza. Fierke said the demolition of the mall is intentionally being done slowly to allow the existing stores to move into new retail spaces once they’re built instead of closing and having to wait for construction to finish.

“Unfortunately, we’re not having too many that are going into the new space. I can tell you with Bath and Body Works, this wasn’t the only store they closed last Saturday. They closed a number throughout the United States,” Fierke said. “With Dunham’s, it’s a store we would love to keep in the market, but unfortunately, the space being developed doesn’t meet their rent needs. They look for spaces that are not that high in rent, so that’s why they can’t quite get an agreement with the developers.”

Fierke said he does have some announcements he hopes to be able to make within the next few weeks. He said the announcements will be made when the businesses allow and the city is choosing to respect their timelines.

“It’s one of those times where we just wish our announcements could come out faster than what they are,” Fierke said.

Downtown development was also asked about by the audience.

“We’re seeing an increase in occupancy downtown. We’re in the second round of a facade grant. We spent a million dollars on facades on Central Avenue. All that is positive, we’re seeing movement downtown,” Fierke said. “The big rock that we’re still trying to push is the old Warden Plaza. We had a developer we were working with for I don’t know how many years and they totally fizzled out. So now, we’re trying to get that into another developer’s hands so that we can redo the Warden Plaza.”

Plautz said the size of downtown Fort Dodge has its pros and cons.

“Downtown has assets and the assets are also liabilities in that we’ve got so much space, so much square footage. The Warden Plaza at one time had 235 housing units in that one building, and three stories of commercial. It’s an asset to the infrastructure, but it’s a liability in terms of where to find uses to fill that space,” he said.

Fierke said there are a few other housing projects including a 40 unit, market-rate housing project that is currently on hold as they wait to see if they receive workforce housing tax credits. “The idea is to get some more market-rate housing downtown because we’ll have more people living there with more expendable money that will then help improve the retail and service and restaurant business down there,” Fierke said. “Downtown redevelopment is a slow process. It’s a continual process because as soon as you get going, there’s something else that needs to get done. So we’re continuing to work on it.”

Campbell shared some updates from around the county, including the county quality of life projects.

“We will be putting a new conservation center where the former Cargill site was. There’s some land cleanup and testing needs to be done. It’s an amazing partnership between the city and the county,” he said. “We’re doing a joint urban renewal area. So this project is 100% funded by economic development.”

Campbell said the design for the nature center is expected to be complete by the end of January before bid letting begins.

“We’re actually hoping to start pushing dirt in maybe May so you’ll see some activity going on down there,” he said.

Fierke said the city hopes the riverside developments will bring more people to the area.

“We were super excited when the county decided to locate their nature center in our Central River District area because it is a nice draw to the area. Their vision is to have a riverfront that people want to go to where there’s exciting things going on,” he said.

Campbell said the Badger Lake Trail is expected to be completed by the end of this year, providing a fully paved trail around Badger Lake at John F. Kennedy Memorial Park.

Campbell said they are also beginning to address a need in the area by allocating funds to train emergency medical technicians.

“Supervisor Nick Carlson came to the board, he’s a full time firefighter besides a phenomenal supervisor, and he said they were having some challenges with getting EMTs in our small rural fire departments,” he said. “So we as a board sat down and we’re going to allocate $30,000 a year for the next three years to start paying to train EMTs in the rural areas.”

Plautz said a huge asset to the progress being made in the area is due to the cooperation between city and county entities.

“In the 40-some years I’ve been around here it hasn’t even approached being as cooperative and collaborative as it is today. I never would have thought 15 years ago we could work together as well as people are working together now,” he said.

Campbell agreed with Plautz, saying “A few years ago we came up with ‘Webster starts with We’ and we want to make sure we truly are the example about how we all work together to get things done.”


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