Workshop, Citizen Input Chart Potential Course For Glenwood Resource Center’s future

A group of Glenwood area residents look on during a presentation about future development at the Glenwood Resource Center campus when it closes next year.

Some workshop attendees get a closer looks at design ideas.

After four days of design workshops that brought state representatives, consultants, state and local economic development officials and Mills County residents together, the  picture of the future of the Glenwood Resource Center is a bit clearer.

Even if the ambitious plan to develop the site into a mixed-used residential neighborhood asks as many questions as it answers.

For four nights last week, consultants from HDR, the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IED), and the GRC Task Force, which is made up of community members, met nightly in the gymnasium at the Meyer Building on the GRC campus. The meetings, which were attended by more than 50 community members each night, were designed to enlist feedback on the plan to redevelop the 100-year old campus when the state shutters the facility in mid-2024.

HDR, Inc., the Omaha-based architectural and engineering firm, provided market assessments and master plan options for the more than 380-acre campus, while also taking public feedback. At each subsequent meeting, they returned with drawings and large maps of the campus, which were tacked to the wall. Each broadly detailed the mixed residential communities HDR identified as the most viable for the campus long term.

At Thursday’s final meeting, the committee unveiled its “preferred” master plan. A plan that envisions a walkable, open space neighborhood with apartments and homes for 2,000 residents in addition to 10,000 square feet of retail space, new road access off Highway 34 and an interconnected network of trails that activates the natural prairie land. All of it leveraging the existing topography and incorporating several of the existing historic buildings into the design.

“A lot of thought and effort went into it,” said Mark Lincoln, President of the Mills County Economic Development Foundation Board of Directors, who also served on the GRC Task Force.

“We’re all disappointed with losing GRC but moving forward, we can’t just leave an empty campus here. And the state has declared they’re leaving. That is a fact. So I think this is an exciting project and it’s a lot of change. It’s ambitious.”

The GRC development plan appears closely tied to that of the Mills Crossing mega site located east of Glenwood along Highway 34. That 1,650 acre site has been marked as a development-ready and certified Quest Site Solutions by the Iowa Economic Development Authority’s Certified Sites program. The site is intended to lure a large manufacturer to the area.

Large-scale manufacturing means employees. Employees means a need for housing. But that large-scale manufacturer has yet to commit to the Mills Crossing site.

Larry Winum, CEO of Glenwood State Bank, and a member of the task force. sees real potential in the mega site driving the GRC development. A synergy that can mutually benefit both developments.

“The state believes it’s going to happen,” Winum said of the mega site. “They don’t know when but they really believe it’s going to happen. It’s the only one in Iowa or Nebraska. The one in Cedar Rapids doesn’t check all the boxes this site does. There are a shortage of mega sites right now. There are more industries interested than there are sites. There’s interest. There’s people out there paying attention and the more site selectors come out and visit and see it, the better our chances.”
HDR indicated early in it workshop presentations, the GRC campus was not a “jobs site,” meaning large retail and manufacturing were likely off the table. The campus, has just 120 acres considered development ready due to the large state preserve to the south, its hilly topography, outdated utilities and limited road access.

Both the City of Glenwood and Mills County are unwilling to take on the likely massively expensive task of updating the GRC’s sewer and water infrastructure. New entrances off of Highway 34 would require Iowa Department of Transportation approval.

Winum thinks how the mega site develops and if it can attract the sort of large manufacturing or industrial operation the state hopes, could go far in jump starting those infrastructure improvements and attracting a developer.

“What will be key is if the state of Iowa wants to transfer this to some entity and walk away from the campus, one thing they know for sure is no city or county or LLC or master developer is going to come up here and do anything until all those roads are put in, the utilities are updated and the infrastructure is there,” Winum said. “It has to be shovel ready.”

Winum went on to say the state understands that prospect and they are committed to staying on until the site is “in a position where that can happen.”

“That number could be very large,” Winum said of the cost for those improvements. “We’re talking millions of dollars to put in entrances off (Highway) 34, update the antiquated infrastructure and tear down some buildings. Most of that has to happen before someone is going to come in ‘OK, we’re ready to come in and do this project.’”

The GRC’s proximity to the mega site could prove important in the utilities question, maybe even as a catalyst for the state to step up their role in making the infrastructure improvements at the GRC.

“When you think about having to take sewer and water to the mega site, it runs right by here (the GRC),” Winum said. “So they know that. We’re thinking they’ll want to kill two birds with one stone.”

Winum also went on to say the prospect of a new community with housing for more than 2,000 people at the GRC “checks another box” for a large manufacturers that need housing for employees.

“They’ve done a pretty good job of mixing in upper income and more affordable housing,” he said. “That’s another box checked. I think honestly that’s why the state is really interested. I know people don’t believe this but I think they (the state) truly feel badly about closing this. I know people were upset. I think they’re doing the best they can. But when it’s all said and done, you have to throw out a number.”

Winum said the next step for the task force and HDR is figuring out just how much those infrastructure and utilities improvements will cost and what the state’s financial commitment will be.

“That’ll take HDR three or four months to put that together and they’ll make a presentation laying out, ‘Here’s what we’ve come up with, here’s the cost, what’s your appetite to pay for it?’” Winum said.

Both Winum and Lincoln agree finding a master developer to take on the project prior to the state closing the facility next July is unlikely. Setting a price tag on what the potential mixed-use resident project will cost is an even murkier proposition.

“Even if the state can commit to it, I’m not sure a master developer will believe them,” Winum said. “They’ll want to see them do it. They can make an agreement where they’ll sign on but they’ll want the state to do their part first.”

Lincoln admits the project is a massive undertaking. In addition to finding the right developer with the right vision, the project will require millions of dollars in state, private, and perhaps federal money.

“It’s an ambitious goal no doubt,” he said. “And I think it will take a little while to come up with the costs but after the state determines their cost and commits to participation money-wise, then in turn any master developer is going to say ‘What is this going to cost? How much money can we get to help? What programs are out there, whether they’re federal or state, what grants are there to help them?’ It’s going to take a little bit of time. But a village of this size doesn’t happen over night.”

Lincoln pointed to the Aksarben Village development in Omaha, which started over 25 years ago with the razing of a horse racing track and has grown into a business, retail and residential center that is still growing as an example of the long-term planning and patience the project requires.

“You have to look at this long-term,” Lincoln said. “We’ll see how it goes. We’re very hopeful. The state of Iowa and our task force are determined not to just walk away from the GRC grounds and just leave it. We want to have some something nice here.”


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