Windsor Heights’ total retail sales revenues grew 121 percent in the depths of the 2008-2009 recession -- sales volume attributed largely to the Wal-Mart store in the tiny suburb. Furthermore, total sales generally have not diminished much since then. In fact, the tiny suburb’s retail sales volume has doubled to an average $11,624 for each of its 4,877 residents. 

The sales volume is undoubtedly good for the retailers that are reaping it, but so far, it hasn’t brought extra revenue to the city, which has watched its commercial property valuations shrink from 38 percent of total property valuation in fiscal year 2007 to 32 percent in fiscal 2012.  

According to an Iowa State University economist, the city is an anomaly. Geographically, the city is landlocked, so opportunities for growth are pretty much limited to redevelopment.

But on paper, it generates more retail sales per citizen than its larger neighbors.

The Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club, in combination with a Hy-Vee Inc. grocery store, account for much of the city’s growth in retail sales tax revenue.

Colby Investments, which represents various family trusts, owns the ground where the Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club are located. It also owns the Apple Valley and Sherwood Forest shopping centers. Roughly half of the residential development in the city was carried out by family members.

Clark Colby Jr. has been told that Windsor Heights’ Wal-Mart is among the busiest in the state. City Administrator Jeff Fiegenschuh said it is tops in the metro area and ranks No. 2 in sales among all Wal-Mart stores in Iowa.

The city is a shopping destination not only for its own residents, but for consumers from all of Greater Des Moines.

That is good and bad for the city. Sales tax revenues go to the state of Iowa, not cities, unless they take an indirect route in the form of development incentives to developers.

The DART bus route that serves the retailer is the busiest in Greater Des Moines, Fiegenschuh said. Many of those bus riders are headed to Wal-Mart.

He would like to capture some of those dollars that flow to Wal-Mart and the state, possibly via a local option sales tax, in order to relieve the city’s residents of some property tax burden.

“All of these people are using our services, but they are not paying for it,” he said.

Fiegenschuh said generating revenue and development opportunities in Windsor Heights is a challenge.

“We don’t have a lot of area to build out, but we do have a lot of area to redevelop,” he said.

That means a lot of his time is spent talking to Clark Colby, Richard Hurd and other developers about projects that will bring commercial growth to the city.

Hurd is the owner of a 7-acre lot that has been cleared for redevelopment at the northeastern gateway to Windsor Heights at Hickman Road and 63rd Street,  having bought it last year from the city, which purchased the land, razed old buildings and improved streets to lure investment activity.

For his part, Hurd has proved adept at attracting a range of commercial developers to Greater Des Moines, particularly retailers. He recently lined up meetings with four shopping center developers to discuss potential uses for the property.

“We have a lot of good corporate partners,” Fiegenschuh said.