Windsor Heights, Iowa
Laying the foundation for revitalization of their city’s downtown, Windsor Heights, Iowa, officials in 1997 designated the intersection of 66th and University Avenue as the Town Center. Officials wanted the center city renewal effort — called the “New Heights” project — to preserve the small-town identity of the suburban community, beautify the downtown area and restore a traditional downtown theme to maximize property values. Officials also wanted to distinguish their suburban city from its neighbor, Des Moines.
“It was crucial not only to area businesses, but also to our residents, that the community’s identity be readily discernable and that the infrastructure be top-notch,” says Marketa Oliver, city administrator. “If we wanted people to remain living, visiting, shopping and doing business [in Windsor Heights], changes had to be made.”
The New Heights project began with upgrades to University Avenue, which was widened to five lanes. Subsequently, the city had to relocate surrounding utilities underground and replace outdated water and sewer infrastructure.
Officials also decided to add streetscaping to the project, planting foilage, installing decorative lighting and building a mini park at the Town Center corner.
The city purchased property at three of the four corners adjacent to the Town Center to build retail, office and restaurant space. It retained easement rights to a parking lot area for civic uses, such as open-air markets, festivals and concerts.
The New Heights project used a $1.5 million grant for the street construction; tax increment financing bonds; $25,000 in grants from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Keep Iowa Beautiful and the state’s roadway program; and funding from the local “Tree University” adopt-a-tree campaign. Informing residents about every construction phase was key to the project. “Because [University Avenue] is a major thoroughfare, we wanted to alleviate surprises,” Oliver says. Consequently, Windsor Heights created an intensive public relations effort that included:
flyers that businesses could redistribute to customers to inform them of how to get to their shops during construction;
a $30,000 radio campaign that provided frequent updates on how to navigate through the community;
fax and e-mail notifications — sometimes two or three times per day — informing residents and businesses housed on University Avenue about any utility outages; and
a weekly walk along the street, performed by a city official and supervisor in charge of construction, who would answer any questions.
In some instances, the city asked the contractor to work at night to disrupt businesses as little as possible. Now, after nearly 2.5 years and $7.2 million invested in the city’s downtown and business district, the University Avenue upgrades have helped restore Windsor Heights’ town center and enhance public safety and traffic flow.
The improvements have become especially important as construction has begun on the I-235 freeway running through the Des Moines metropolitan area, forcing commuters to use University Avenue as an alternate route, Oliver says. Even more important, the New Heights project enhanced the city’s “walk-ability,” benefiting businesses and residents, she says.
Agencies/companies involved: Ad Hoc Citizens Streetscaping Committee, Windsor Heights, Iowa; AT&T/Mediacom, Iowa City, Iowa; Baker Electric, Des Moines, Iowa; Calhoun Burns & Associates, West Des Moines, Iowa; Ciaccio-Dennell Group, Omaha, Neb.; Des Moines Metropolitan Planning Organization, Iowa; Des Moines Water Works, Iowa; Eco-Tech Construction, Grimes, Iowa; Iowa Department of Transportation, Ames; Iowa Pipeline, Council Bluffs, Iowa; Keep Windsor Heights Beautiful Committee, Iowa; Mid-American Energy, Davenport, Iowa; Quest, Des Moines, Iowa; Urban Development, West Des Moines, Iowa; Windsor Heights City Council, Iowa; and residents and business owners in Windsor Heights, Iowa.