Dan Stanbrough recently purchased property in the 6600 block of Douglas Avenue in Urbandale. In the past three years, 15 properties have changed ownership along the eight-block corridor. Photo by Kathy A. Bolten
Fifteen of 40 properties along an eight-block stretch of Urbandale’s Douglas Avenue have changed ownership since 2019, a sign that developers and others believe the area is ripe for redevelopment, city officials say.

Ambitious redevelopment plans at Merle Hay Mall, a portion of which anchors a major entry into Urbandale, have sparked interest in revitalizing properties between the 6300 and 7100 blocks of Douglas Avenue, said Aaron DeJong, the city’s assistant economic development director.
"Certainly, people don’t buy properties if they think the area is going to go downhill," he said. "So that’s a promising sign."

For months, rumors had circulated that the Des Moines Buccaneers hockey team was searching for a home and that Merle Hay Mall, located at Merle Hay Road and Douglas Avenue, was a potential home. Last November, mall owners announced that former department store space that had been vacant for more than two years would be converted to a 3,500-seat arena for the Bucs that could also be used as an event center.

The redevelopment project would also include a training facility with additional sheets of ice and a 150-room hotel. The majority of the estimated $128.6 million project would be located in Urbandale.

In June, the Iowa Economic Development Authority board awarded the project $26.5 million through its Iowa Reinvestment Act program. Construction of the arena and training center is expected to be completed by December 2023.

"We think there’s going to be a lot of spillover development into downtown Urbandale," DeJong said.

In recent years, little reinvestment has occurred in the area, DeJong said. Several property owners have let buildings deteriorate. Property values have been mostly stagnant, while they’ve grown in other areas of Polk County.

The proposed Merle Hay project will help turn the area around, said Dan Stanbrough, a developer who this year purchased property along Douglas Avenue, west of the mall. "I believe the Merle Hay project has lit the fuse to get people to think bigger. "

Among the properties Stanbrough bought is one that previously was home to a flower shop. Stanbrough said he hasn’t finalized plans for the property but is considering uses such as a wine and cheese shop, candy store and coffee shop.

"I think what we’re going to see is a lot of activity at [the arena] and people walking down the street to find food or drinks," Stanbrough said. "I think whatever we do here will get a lot of traffic from what’s happening at the mall."

The property at 6656 Douglas Ave. was one of eight that have changed ownership in 2021, a review of real estate records shows. Between Dec. 30, 2008, and March 3, 2013, no transactions were recorded in the area; since 2018, two or more transactions a year have occurred, the review showed.

At least one property that has been purchased recently is being converted for a new use, DeJong said. A building at 7035 Douglas Ave. that previously was home to a dry cleaner is being remodeled for offices, he said.

The area is where Urbandale got its start, said Curtis Brown, the city’s assistant city manager and economic development director.

In the early 1900s, street car No. 7 traveled from Des Moines to an area just south of 70th Street and Douglas before turning around and returning to Des Moines, according to a history of Urbandale on the city’s website.

"Urbandale grew from that spot," Brown said. "It’s our historic downtown."

In recent years, the city has made infrastructure improvements to the area and spruced it up with banners.

This fall, the city is updating its comprehensive plan and one main focus will be on the downtown, Brown said.

"We want to find out what the community and council’s vision is for this area," he said. "Do they want it be walkable or do they want it to have more of a suburban feel? How do we want to connect the area to Merle Hay?"

Once the comprehensive plan is updated, Stanbrough said he’ll decide how to redevelop the properties he’s purchased.

"There’s a lot of possibilities. We want to do it right and help revitalize this area," he said.

View interactive map
View an interactive map that shows which properties in the 6300 to 7100 blocks of Douglas Avenue in Urbandale have changed ownership in recent years. The map includes names of property owners, property values and sales prices.