The Pleasant Hill City Council approved an agreement Tuesday that allows a Clive-based commercial real estate firm to act as the city's economic development director.
The idea was the brainchild of Mike Macri, a broker with Ferguson Commercial Real Estate Services LC, who drafted what appears to be a one-of-a-kind plan to market the city and its development properties.
Under the arrangement, the city would pay a $29,691 retainer that includes a market feasibility study and an optional Internet-based marketing package. Any other fees would be based on typical commissions Macri and Ferguson would receive on real estate deals and would be paid by the private clients.
If Macri does not represent either side of the real estate transaction, he would not receive a fee.
“If I don't have a part of a commission, I'll just represent the city's interest and facilitate the deal,” he said.
Alan Kemp, executive director of the Iowa League of Cities, said he was unaware of any other community in the state with a similar arrangement.
“It's an interesting concept,” he said.
Larger communities typically have an economic development department. Smaller municipalities frequently rely on regional economic development organizations. Pleasant Hill is a member of the Eastern Polk Regional Development Group. Under the proposed agreement, the city would continue its membership in that organization, and Macri's efforts would supplement those of the development group.
Macri said he has approached the plan, developed over the last six months, as though he were putting together a proposal for a private client.
“What's happening is that I've created a plan that would be done as though I were working for a specific landlord or complex and blown it up,” Macri said. “It's irrelevant to me whether a specific piece of ground is listed with another broker.”
The plan has three components: Determine how the community perceives its development over the next five to 20 years; determine methods for drawing developers and owners to the community; and using Ferguson's resources to market Pleasant Hill.
“All-out marketing is where Ferguson really comes into play; going out and targeting industries, businesses, groups to come to Pleasant Hill,” Macri said. “The demographics lend the city to more industries than people can imagine.”
Macri said he is not a Pleasant Hill resident and does not own property in the city.
“I have no preconceived notions or political ties,” he said. “I'm coming in as a third party with a unique set of eyes. I can point out things that you might not notice if you lived in Pleasant Hill or were coming into the city day to day.”
In a letter to the City Council, Macri said his initial focus would be on the redevelopment of East University Avenue and expanding the development of industrial and office properties as a way to boost the city's employment base.
East University lacks grocery, home improvement, general retail, pet supply and consumer electronics businesses, Macri said in the letter.
“I'm treating this as a massive listing,” he told the Business Record.
City Manager Donald Sandor said the deal was several months in the making.
"It was such a unique arrangement that it wasn't an easy thing to put together," he said. There were no models to follow.
Sandor said development slowed in the city, as it did elsewhere in Greater Des Moines, during the recession, and has not been quick to bounce back. The city has issued one commercial construction permit so far this year.
"We've had continued growth, even despite the recession, but not to the level we'd like to see it,"
Sandor said. "We think we have a lot of reasons why commercial development should happen out here, but we have to make sure we get on the radar," Sandor said.
William Knapp II, chairman and CEO of Knapp Properties Inc., said the agreement should help spark development in the city.
“Pleasant Hill should be terrific … they were a very successful community on residential and commercial development, but after the 2008 debacle in the economy, they just haven't come back,” he said. “Getting someone at the Ferguson group focused on that is great.”
Knapp Properties owns a little more than 600 acres of development ground in the city, including land along University.
Editor's Note: Updated Wednesday, June 13.