When Jeff Mark was interviewing for the job of Altoona city manager in 1996, a lack of retailers was one of the community’s biggest challenges. 

At the time, “you couldn’t buy socks in Altoona,” Mark said. “Outside of a Hy-Vee and a Fareway and a few craft-type stores, there really wasn’t any retail shopping in Altoona.” 

Nowadays, Altoona is becoming a significant regional retail hub in the metro area. And some of its biggest commercial development lies ahead next year with the construction of The Shoppes of Prairie Crossing - a 174-acre retail development, to be anchored by an upscale outlet mall to be built adjacent to Bass Pro Shops at the junction 
of Interstate 80 and U.S. Highway 65. 

Altoona experienced steady retail sales growth and volume in the past six years, despite the 2008-09 recession.  

WHY:

Three landmark attractions: Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino, Adventureland and Bass Pro Shops draw more than 6 million visitors into the city each year. Those visitors spend money in Altoona hotels, restaurants and shops, inflating retail revenues far beyond what residents would spend. 

“We’ve had a lot of hotel growth,” Mark said. Altoona’s hotel/motel tax collection increased by 59 percent since 2007. The most recent addition is a new Holiday Inn Express & Suites near Adventureland, and the city is reviewing a site plan for a Hampton Inn & Suites just west of the Holiday Inn.

WHAT THE CITY DID:  

“I think this all ties back into the city’s philosophy on commercial growth,” Mark said. “Capitalize on the rooftop aspect for the retail, and the tourism aspect to get the numbers (of visitors) into the community. The combination of the two has worked very well.”  An early catalyst: completing he Highway 65 extension in  1998 soon led to Wal-Mart Stores Inc. building a store in Altoona. 

“Where most chambers (of commerce) aren’t excited about Wal-Mart coming to town, ours was,” Mark recalled. “We were very excited to get some retail shopping.” 

Because of Wal-Mart, the city was able to extend its sanitary sewer system west to Highway 65, which attracted a flurry of retail development that included Menards, Target and Staples, along with a number of restaurants and strip malls. Then, developer Mike Whalen, president and CEO of Heart of America Group, brought in Bass Pro Shops. 

“The good news was we completed all the financing (for Bass Pro Shops) just before the economy tanked, so we were able to get that deal done and all the infrastructure in and ready for development,” Mark said. That infrastructure investment – about $10 million in streets, lighting, water, sewer and grading for approximately 210 acres – recently paid off for Altoona with Whalen’s announcement of plans for the new outlet mall and retail center. 

“There’s only one location in town where the interstate and the bypass intersect, and that’s that site,” said John Shaw, Altoona’s community development director. “That’s why the city invested that kind of money in infrastructure there.” 

WHAT’S PREDICTED:

Whalen expects construction to begin next summer on Des Moines Outlets as part of The Shoppes of Prairie Crossing., a 75-store retail and entertainment complex.

Altoona officials expect the city’s population will double from about 15,000 residents to 30,000 by 2025. 

The most costly piece of the infrastructure needed to accommodate further growth – a new sanitary sewer line – is already in place. “That will allow us to serve everything from our eastern city limit to 96th Street, which is about 10 square miles,” Shaw said. “That’s a very nice asset to have when you’re looking at your future growth.”

Altoona By the Numbers 

4% Average annual increase in retail sales revenue, FY2007-FY2012

49% Commercial share of total Altoona property valuation, 2012

56% Commercial share of total Altoona property valuation, 2007

$29,068 Retail sales revenue per capita, FY2013 (Highest in Metro)