Marcus Pitts, left, of NAI Ruhl & Ruhl Commercial Co. and Ted Rapp of DRA Propeties LLC are entertaining offers to develop more property at Prairie Trail in Ankeny.
Marcus Pitts, left, of NAI Ruhl & Ruhl Commercial Co. and Ted Rapp of DRA Propeties LLC are entertaining offers to develop more property at Prairie Trail in Ankeny.

Prairie Trail in Ankeny was launched as a land of possibilities, and it still is.

The Great Recession might have slowed the pace of development at the nearly 1,100-acre site planned as a community within a community, but slowed is the operative word.

In recent months, Iowa Health Physicians and Clinics and Mercy Clinics Inc. opened medical facilities, a family-owned real estate and construction business bought land and built its headquarters, the first retail building in a key commercial area is 66 percent occupied and another has no vacancies.

The ingredients of a self-contained community are in place, and don’t forget, Prairie Trail is in the heart of a city of 45,000 people that continues to draw attention from developers, corporations and plenty of you’s-and-me’s looking for a place in which to live, raise a family, or retire. Did we mention that Prairie Trails also features an elaborate retirement community?

The pace of development has not kept up with expectations, said Ted Rapp, project coordinator for Dennis Albaugh’s DRA Properties LC, which was chosen by the city of Ankeny to develop the property, the former site of an Iowa State University research farm.

On the residential side, there are homes on 95 of the 150 lots in the Precedence residential area. To the east, seven homes have been built in the Heritage residential area, and another 24 lots are available. Construction will start there on three more houses in the next month. In addition, another 50 lots will be ready for building activity by the end of May.

Prairie Trail was announced by the city and DRA Properties in 2006, with a master plan that included commercial, retail and residential properties, schools, libraries, government buildings and recreational opportunities.

Rapp said he would have imagined that at least 300 homes would have been built by now.

Still, business owners, home builders and development companies are kicking the tires, at the very least. Rapp and Marcus Pitts, a vice president with Ruhl & Ruhl Commercial Co., the listing agent for the commercial properties at Prairie Trail, can rattle of a list of potential builders and tenants.

Hy-Vee Inc. is expected to announce at some point its plans for a property it purchased in 2010 in Prairie Trail.

Rapp said it would be a mistake to wait on residential construction alone to provide the momentum for more commercial development.

He is quick to point out the fact that a sizable community already surrounds Prairie Trail, one that can provide plenty of customers.

“There are a lot of people here already,” Rapp said. “Growth can’t be dictated by how many houses are at Prairie Trail.”

In addition, Rapp and Pitts said an announcement is expected soon for the construction of apartments for students at Des Moines Area Community College, located just south of Prairie Trail.

Another commercial building is being considered for the Plaza Shops area of the development, and a medical support building is a possibility for land near the Iowa Health clinic.

Still waiting for its first foundation is The District, an area conceived as the town center, complete with restaurants, retail stores, entertainment and civic buildings.

The land has been graded and utilities are in place, as are a sanitary sewer and a water main.

“I think the terminology is that we are still waiting to get momentum” for the area, Rapp said.

During a recent luncheon for Greater Des Moines real estate brokers, Rapp and Pitts were optimistic that momentum was building as the metro area continues to recover from the recession.

A development with its own scholarship fund

In 2007, Dennis and Susan Albaugh announced a scholarship fund for Prairie Trail residents that would provide grants of up to $10,000 for college education.

The scholarships were first awarded in 2010, and have included $1,000 grants for students who do not live in Prairie Trail

The Albaughs provided $100,000 in seed money, with the balance of the funds generated by a fee of 0.5 percent on the sale of real estate within Prairie Trail.