Open that gate: Alice's Road
Friday, October 19, 2012 7:00 AM
Editor’s note: This article is a part of a series of articles that appeared in the CRE Guide updating readers on four areas of greater Des Moines that are poised for development. Click here to see the full guide. Read all: Alice's Road, Southwest Connector, Southeast Connector/Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway & Go North
A big gateway to development is waiting to be opened between Waukee and West Des Moines. It’s called the Alice’s Road interchange, and it is an opportunity waiting to gallop to freedom for landowners and brokers, city leaders, maybe even commuters who get stalled in rush-hour traffic.
When completed, maybe in 2014, it will join a range of interchanges that have been keys to development.
Without the reconstruction of the East Mixmaster, chances are that The Toro Co. might have looked elsewhere when deciding to relocate a state-of-the-art distribution center in Ankeny. The meshing and splitting of Interstates 35, 80 and 235 at least contributed to Toro’s decision, said Curtis Brown, Ankeny’s economic development director.
And where would all the shoppers and residents and commuters destined for Jordan Creek Town Center be without that lovely bridge and interchange at Interstate 35 and Mills Civic Parkway in West Des Moines?
Some interchanges, and roads it would seem, are destined for greatness.
The Business Record went looking for those great development gateways and picked out four areas poised for growth.
We’ll start with the obvious. Alice’s Road has been something of a destination because at one time it led to Alice’s Spaghetti Land in the northern reaches of Waukee. Alice Nizzi supplied the Alice to the road; she also served legendary Italian dishes. Nizzi died in 1997. Her nephew, Jim Nizzi, operated the restaurant until 2004, when it closed for good.
Now, the road is viewed as a major north-south connector in booming Dallas County, once the road is cut through cornfields between University Avenue and Interstate 80, where an estimated $13.5 million interchange is in the planning stages.
The area has captured the attention of some notable land lovers. Knapp Properties Inc. has land there, Kurt Brewer and partners have assembled parcels. LeMar Koethe has land nearby.
Oakleaf Properties LC is the major landholder. The company was formed by the Burt family, which holds about 180 acres at what will be the northwest corner of the Alice’s Road interchange.
“We really feel this is a strategic location,” said Christopher Stafford, a director with NAI Ruhl & Ruhl Commercial Co. in West Des Moines.
The announcement in January that the Federal Highway Administration had given its consent to build the interchange – it turned down the project in 2007 – resulted in a rush of enthusiasm from developers and landowners.
“This is the big one,” Brewer said at the time.
Stafford agreed that interest from retailers and other developers increased after the announcement.
“Retailers are ahead of the game in assessing locations,” Stafford said. Several have expressed an interest in the Oakleaf property, “but everything hinges on the interchange.”
Big-box retailers have shown an interest, he said.
“When you start talking about a new interchange, that’s an immediate door opener,” Stafford said.
Waukee leaders are making plans for land north of the interstate, envisioning a mix residential and commercial development. South of the interstate, Alice’s Road becomes 105th Street in West Des Moines, where city officials envision widening 105th and tying it into Mills Civic Parkway.
The interchange “is really an important development tool,” said Gerry Neugent, president and chief operating officer for Knapp Properties.
The company owns land that will be crossed by the extension of Alice’s Road south from University.
When retailers talk to the company, they want to know when the interchange will be built, Neugent said.
Cooperation between Waukee and West Des Moines city officials has been key to development plans for the area, he said.
Stafford said the interchange will serve another purpose.
“It brings western Iowa into Greater Des Moines,” he said.
A diamond in the rough has emerged from the flat farmland to the north and rolling hills to the south of the interchange.
Planners are considering a unique interchange design, called a diverging diamond (click here to view a video about the diverging diamond), that would chew up less land and lead to smoother traffic flow exiting and entering the interstate.
Such an interchange would cut construction costs by about $3 million and it would reduce the amount of land consumed to about 53 acres from the 87 needed for a standard ramp design.
There are few diverging diamonds in the country – the first opened in 2009 in Missouri – but they have become the darlings of the design and engineering communities.
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