Here’s what a view to the east could look like at Northwest 86th Street and University Boulevard when the corridor redesign is completed. Illustration submitted by Hitchcock Design Group
Here’s what a view to the east could look like at Northwest 86th Street and University Boulevard when the corridor redesign is completed. Illustration submitted by Hitchcock Design Group

On a map of the metro, the city of Clive looks as though it has been run through a sausage stuffer.

The city slips between Urbandale to the north and West Des Moines to the south before escaping for a little air near Waukee, where an annexation dispute in the 1990s left Clive with little room for additional westward expansion.

As an urban planner said in a report on the city's growth potential, Clive has followed a "linear" annexation model, one that suggests it is as long as it is going to get.

But the city isn't locked in a no-growth mode.

As orange construction cones and demolition debris will attest, the city is returning to old places for a new look, even a new vision of itself.

Clive has a new logo and slogan, "Clive, distinct by nature," and it is creating new spaces to display that logo, primarily on gateways planned for the Northwest 86th Street corridor, the focus of a major lift for what has become something of a frumpy-looking pass-through street on the city's east side.

In search of a town center

Mayor Les Aasheim likes to think that Northwest 86th Street will become the town center that the city never really had. It might even get an alias, Clive Road, to remind folks of the days when there were cattle and Quonset huts on the west side of the street.

At present, more than 30,000 cars per day make the trip north and south on Northwest 86th Street. Aasheim would like for some of those travelers to consider the corridor as a destination spot.

As Clive's slogan suggests, nature might call some folks to the street. It provides access to Walnut Creek and the city's trail system.

But other plans call for stretching that trail system along Northwest 86th Street corridor, sprinkling it with street sculptures, planters, street lamps and other features that should invite passersby to stay a while.

And there are practical improvements, such as widening turn lanes at Northwest 86th Street's intersections with Hickman Road and University Boulevard.

The corridor improvements also include widening University Boulevard to three lanes, with a view to making it a five-lane street in the future.

City officials have approached all of the changes - from creating a new identity in the form of the logo and slogan to giving the Northwest 86th Street corridor a facelift - with a view to getting businesses and residents on board with their plans, not to mention keeping them informed during the construction process.

The city has spent slightly more than $20,000 to gauge residents' views of the city. Much like a private business seeking its own brand, Clive hired a research and marketing firm and formed an advisory panel to determine how citizens viewed the city.

In other words, the city wanted to know what separated it from every other city in the marketplace.

The Walnut Creek greenbelt and the small-town atmosphere that characterizes much of the metro area were key components. Even city hall has a walk-right-in atmosphere.

Some businesses feel left out

There's little question that city officials expected that openness to play to its advantage as it spread the news about coming changes to the Northwest 86th Street corridor.

But the project has garnered some detractors, especially among businesses that fear a drop in retail sales.

J.D. Daniels, owner of Fredericks LTD Quality Cleaners in the Plaza 1800, said his walk-in business has dropped 20 to 25 percent during the widening of the Northwest 86th Street and Hickman Road intersection.

"I'm hoping that once it's completed, the improvements will slow traffic and people will see that we are here," Daniels said.

For now, Daniels would like to post a temporary sign along Northwest 86th Street to let people know he is open for business. He has not taken his concern to city officials.

"The drawing is already on the board," he said. "What difference am I going to make?"

Daniels also operates something of a destination business, with customers fighting any congestion created by the construction to find his shop. On a recent day, those customers were from West Des Moines, Sac City, even Iowa City.

Cathi Fakih, owner of La La Handbags, also in the Plaza 1800, does not have an established customer base. She celebrated a grand opening July 1 after being open for a few months, during which time she has averaged three to 10 customers a day.

In fact, business has been so slow that she told a recently hired shop attendant to "bring a book to work."

The street improvements "might bring traffic for other people, but right now I have no traffic," she said.

And the project has created a separate life of its own, with rumors circulating among business owners that huge chunks of property might disappear for future development and that the city wants some businesses to move.

David Hoss, manager of Barr Bike and Fitness, 1710 N.W. 86th St., has seen the traffic ebb and flow outside his store for nearly 28 years. He has heard the speculation.

"There are rumors flying everywhere," he said.

However, he's also optimistic that change will be good for the area. "I can only see the positives that it will improve the business area," Hoss said.

He also pointed out that the bike and fitness shop is a destination stop. "There are only so many places where you can buy a $5,000 bike," he said.

Hoss also points out that some businesses are disappearing.

A McDonald's restaurant has closed. The city bought a Taco John's for $1 million and razed it to make room for widening the intersection of Northwest 86th Street and University Boulevard as well as for the construction of a future pedestrian park. The city also bought and demolished a former Pizza Hut. And it has acquired street frontage for rights of way.

Communicating change

Doug Ollendike, the city's community development director, said no business should feel threatened.

"The way the city of Clive has approached this entire redevelopment concept is that we don't want to move anybody out who doesn't want to leave," he said. "The people who are out there can stay until the end of time if they'd like to."

The city has gone to what some might consider extreme measures to keep its residents and businesses informed about the changes along the corridor.

A Web site outlines the entire project and is updated to show lane closings and other traffic interruptions. In addition, it offers an online sign-up for a newsletter that focuses on the project.

From the Web site, you can even get a look into the future, with renderings of pillars, walls, even the type of brick that might be used for crosswalks and sidewalks.

Lisa Schmidt is the city's assistant city manager, and she is the lead person on much of the redevelopment.

She gets a little irritated by the implication that businesses have been kept in the dark.

"There are some business owners along University Boulevard who have gone up and down the street and communicated with some property owners, and what they have said hasn't necessarily been true," she said.

Schmidt and a college intern make certain that the Web site is current, and she is responsible for the newsletter.

In addition, Schmidt and other city officials have had meetings at various points of the project. "We're trying to do our best to be good public servants and minimize the impact," she said.

In all, there are 222 businesses along the two-mile strip affected by the redevelopment. That's a lot of people to keep happy at any given time.

Ryan Binney, owner of Sweet Binney's bakery at 8527 University Blvd., said the city has done a good job of discussing concerns that business owners might have.

"They have been reasonable to work with," Binney said, adding that he will be content as long as semi-trucks can deliver raw goods and delivery vans can deliver finished bakery goods.

Walk-in customers make up about 25 percent of his business.

"If anything, we're seeing an increase because the construction workers come in for their pastries and coffee," he said.

Another long-time observer of the corridor thinks that business owners should be patient.

"When we started out here, there were cows and Quonset huts across the street," said Bob Lehrkamp, who has worked at Bruce Engine, 1829 N.W. 86th St., for 23 years. "You figure that maybe in 10 years things will be a lot nicer. You've got to look to the future."