Off the bench
Denny Elwell Co. decided it was time to get off the sidelines and back into the development game
Friday, July 20, 2012 7:00 AM
Nearly four years after the economy dropped into a deep pothole, Chris Murray is following a rough path out of the development doldrums.
Though it would be a stretch to say his real estate and development firm was idle through the recession, business was slow.
“We had been sitting on the sidelines for 24 to 30 months,” said Murray, president and CEO of Denny Elwell Co. “Earlier this year, we decided it was time to get with it.”
Behind the wheel of a luxury sport utility vehicle, Murray drives over curbs, bounces along the edges of corn fields, and just generally navigates the real and improvised trails to the sites here the company is getting back to business.
Much of the activity is in Ankeny, where Denny Elwell Co. has projects ranging from the renovation of an old bowling alley into retail space, to larger commercial projects in buildings that will eat up several hundred thousand square feet of development ground.
Murray said that some of the projects have signed lease agreements, while others are being built in anticipation of a resurgent economy.
A project along Southeast Oralabor Road is 100 percent leased. Putco Manufacturing Inc. is moving its operations from Story County to another piece of Denny Elwell Co. land near Interstate 35 on the southern border of Ankeny.
Elsewhere in the city, prospects are lining up where, at the moment, the sites are bare ground being cleared for future construction.
“Sometimes it comes down to people trusting what you say you are going to do,” Murray said.
Signs of a better economic tomorrow can be found in the number of franchise operations that are ready expand, including some that will make their first entry into the Greater Des Moines market. And big box stores are beginning to show signs of renewed vigor.
“It has been really tough and though it hasn’t rebounded completely, we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” Murray said.
Among other indications that the company is seeing the light: it recently bought the former Bob Brown Chevrolet property on Merle Hay Road in Urbandale; it is developing property at South 50th Street and Mills Civic Parkway in West Des Moines; and it is working on a regional shopping center in Ames.
Murray pointed out that founder Denny Elwell has weathered other slowdowns.
The Metro Park Business Park that sprawls along the east side of Interstate 35 was so quiet when Elwell was assembling land, that he had Chip’s restaurant built just so he would have a place to eat lunch, Murray said.
“It was a vision that Denny had. I’m not sure he thought it would take 30 years to happen. He’ll tell you it was pretty lonely for a lot of years,” Murray said.
The company has been able to survive in a market that devoured the less experienced when financial markets tanked in 2008.
“To survive, you really have to be an expert, be more specialized, Murray said.”
It helps to stake your claim in a familiar community that is growing at a rapid pace.
“We’ve been really successful here. We understand the market as well or better than most,” he said.
Getting with it in Ankeny
1: 909 S.E. Oralabor Road, Ankeny
4,800-square-foot commercial building, with 60 stalls available for businesses. Located just west of Sportsmans Warehouse. The property was purchased in 2003.
2: 3202 S.E. Convenience Blvd., Ankeny
The nearly six-acre parcel is part of Denny Elwell Co.’s Metro North Business Park. The company is planning an 86,400-square-foot building.
3: Ankeny Power Center, north of Corporate Woods Drive on the west side of Interstate 35
The site will be home to Mills Fleet Farm, the first in Greater Des Moines, and Denny Elwell Co. will develop an additional 100 acres of land south of that retail operation, offering a range of one- to six-acre lots and has plans for an additional 500,000 square feet of commercial construction.
4: 106 S.W. State St., Ankeny
The former site of Ankeny Lanes bowling alley, the site was purchased in 2011.
Northview Centre, Northwest 18th Street and North Ankeny Boulevard (not shown on map)
A former Ankeny school district property, where Denny Elwell Co. has plans for a variety of retail uses.
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