A company with deep roots in Des Moines is undergoing its second multimillion-dollar expansion within three years and is making plans for additional growth in the future.

A $12 million, 63,000-square-foot building is being added to Des Moines Cold Storage’s facility at 3805 Vandalia Road in Des Moines’ Southeast Agrimergent Technology Park. The project, which is underway, comes about two years after the company opened its new, $17 million, state-of-the-art 110,000-square-foot Crossroad Cold Storage on the 22-acre site. 

Crossroad Cold Storage is a wholly owned subsidiary of Des Moines Cold Storage.

“It’s always good to see longtime Des Moines businesses grow and expand,” said Naomi Hamlett, Des Moines’ economic coordinator. “So much of the city’s land is already developed, so it’s hard to find large acres for a big project like this.”

Planning for the 1,100-acre Southeast Agrimergent Technology Park began more than 20 years ago in an underutilized area of the city roughly bounded by Scott Avenue and railroad right-of-way on the north, the Burlington Northern Railroad right-of-way to the south, Southeast 43rd Street to the east, and Southeast 30th Street to the west.

Development in the area was slow to get started. However, in the past five years, Des Moines Cold Storage built its new facility; Helena Industries Inc., located west of Crossroad Cold Storage, is expanding; and Scrap Processors Inc. built a new facility at Scott Avenue and Southeast 30th Street. To the east, Des Moines Industrial is developing a $25 million rail-based terminal that officials expect will spur even more development in the Southeast Agrimergent Technology Park.

“Not much has been happening in that area until now,” said Joe Gatto, the Des Moines City Council member who represents the area. “Now we’ve got businesses expanding and I believe we’ll get even more businesses there that will complement the transload facility and other businesses in the area. I think that whole area is going to grow into something pretty spectacular.”
Des Moines Cold Storage is among Des Moines’ oldest businesses, founded by the company president’s grandfather in 1910. 

“My grandfather started the company by cutting ice out of the river and selling it to customers in the summer,” said John Paul Muelhaupt, CEO and president of Des Moines Cold Storage. The company was first called Des Moines Ice Co. “Customers had cards with different numbers on them and they’d place them in the window indicating how many pounds of ice they wanted. The ice guy would look at the card and say, ‘Oh, they need 50 pounds,’ and that’s what they’d take to the house.”

The company has undergone numerous changes in the past 110 years, including changing its name. 

Des Moines Cold Storage had facilities in other Iowa communities, but about five years ago company leaders decided to consolidate. In early 2016 the company closed facilities in Marshalltown and Mason City, and in 2017 it began construction of its state-of-the-art processing, manufacturing and distributing facility on Vandalia Road.

“We wanted to combine most of everything we do on one campus,” Muelhaupt said. The company also needed land for future expansions and to be near a good roadway system that would support truck traffic. The U.S. Highway 65 bypass is less than a mile east of the company’s facilities.

The Vandalia Road site “is perfect for most of our customers,” he said. The company’s customers include the five largest meatpacking plants in the U.S. as well as hundreds of other clients including Des Moines’ Blank Park Zoo and the Iowa State Fair. The zoo stores food at the facility, and the fair stores butter for the butter cow and other butter sculptures, Muelhaupt said.

Company officials had planned to expand the new facility in about 2023 but business was so good, the plan was accelerated, Muelhaupt said.

The expansion, which is expected to be completed by November, will increase the facility’s capacity by about 70%, he said. Several companies have already committed to using the space.

“For a while I was beginning to get nervous because of the pandemic, but our customers have told us, ‘Yes, we’ll use the space,’ ” Muelhaupt said.

The City Council in March approved a development agreement with company financial assistance in the form of project-generated tax-increment revenue up to $1.68 million. The expansion is expected to generate $2.9 million in additional property taxes over the next 20 years, city officials estimate.

The city of Des Moines owns 17 acres to the south of Des Moines Cold Storage’s Vandalia Road facility. City officials have been talking with Des Moines Cold Storage about buying the land, Hamlett said. 

“They just want to make sure they can continue to grow there,” she said.