Help find Iowa's best development projects

News coverage of economic development in Iowa tends to focus on large, heavily subsidized new construction, such as the Prestage Farms pork processing plant in Wright County or Orascom’s fertilizer plant in Lee County. Some of those marquee projects convert high-quality farmland into concrete boxes that could be built almost anywhere, like Apple’s planned data center in Waukee, or the similar Facebook facility in Altoona.

Since 2001, the non-profit 1000 Friends of Iowa has been recognizing projects that exemplify sustainable land use. Through November 13, the organization will accept nominations for this year’s Best Development Awards in any of the following categories:

Stormwater Management
Transportation/Complete Streets
Renewable Energy
Placemaking/Greenspace
Mixed Use
Innovative Leadership
Renovated Civic
New Civic
Renovated Commercial
New Residential
New Commercial
Renovated Residential

I’ve been an active supporter of 1000 Friends of Iowa for many years but am not involved in selecting the Best Development Award winners. An external panel of judges reviews all applications.

Every year, I’m inspired to see how a few committed people have transformed old and sometimes historically significant buildings. Reusing an existing space is not only environmentally-friendly, but also has a large multiplier effect for the local economy, especially in a downtown business district.

A wide range of projects may qualify for a Best Development Award. To get a sense of the diversity, scroll down to read about last year’s winners. You can view all the honorees since 2005 here. Please consider nominating a worthy contender from your area.

Todd Schneider won the 2016 Renovated Residential award for the School House Apartments in Fort Madison (click through for photos).

Developer Todd Schneider worked closely with an historic preservation architect, the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the National Park Service to adhere to historic preservation standards on the School House Apartments Project.

School House Apartments Proejct demonstrates the power of strong community buy-in, renewable energy, and adaptive reuse of public infrastructure. Developer Todd Schneider believes this model can be replicated elsewhere, provided funding is available and the local rental market is strong enough. School House Apartments represent a major reinvestment in an existing public school building in Fort Madison, Iowa. It helps revitalize the downtown community and incorporates a 300 kW solar array system (200 kW on roof and 100 kW over the tenant carport); each apartment features high-efficiency appliances, hybrid electric/heat pump water heater, Iowa Green Streets-compliant plumbing, and insulation to lower the building’s energy costs and resource use. Overbuilding the former middle school’s roof, floors, and walls gives the building a very long life expectancy. Close proximity to downtown make walking and cycling viable options for tenants. The 37-unit mixed-income apartment complex includes both affordable and market-rate options, and received Community Development Block Grant funding.

Hope Haven Area Development Center Corporation won the 2016 New Commercial award for the Hopefully Yours Thrift and Gift Shop in Burlington (click through for photos).

Hope Haven has operated a thrift and gift store since 2002. After a devastating fire burned the old store to the ground, Hope Haven chose to build a brand new store to continue serving its 530 clients with disabilities and to continue to promote the economic growth of downtown Burlington. As the first new construction on Jefferson St. in 40 years, the new store is close to the old location and takes space that had been vacant for nearly a decade.

Construction was done to be smart on the inside and the outside of the building: the architecture blends in with other downtown structures, has high efficiency HVAC, and LED lighting. It features thermally dynamic glass in all storefront glazing, which darkens when heated by solar gain along the western facade and solar panels. The building meets ADA standards and has a Warren lift (hydraulic lift toilet). The nature of the business supports its responsible construction goals by employing 11 persons with disabilities, recycling textiles that are not suitable for sale by baling them, which in turn keeps material out of the landfill. The recycling program was also expanded to include cardboard, glass, and metals.

Blackbird Investments won the 2016 Renovated Commercial award for the Market One Building in Des Moines (click through for photos).

The Market One Building, located in Des Moines’ East Village, is on the National HIstoric Register and used state and federal tax credits to restore and repair 97.8% of the structure, floors, roof, and building envelope. It adaptively reuses a factory for commercial space. A glass-enclosed conference room and 3000 square feet of deck and shade canopy were added to the roof.

The remainder of the roof was covered with photovoltaic panels and a planted (green) roof system. Additional primary sustainable building elements include: mini-rain gardens, native and perennial plantings, and capture and delay water retention; geothermal heating and cooling technologies; solar photovoltaics on the parking canopy (with the roof array, the building has net-zero status); dual flush toilets; permeable walk surfaces; maximized daylighting, LED lighting, sensors and lighting controls; dedicated parking for HOV workers and four charging stations for electric vehicles; and showers at each floor level. The combination of geothermal and solar energy sources along with LED lighting and an advanced refrigerant-based heating and cooling system has allowed project to achieve net-zero energy usage. The project is LEED platinum eligible.

Angelo Architects won the 2016 Renovated Civic award for the Iowa Quilt Museum in Winterset (click through for photos).

The Iowa Quilt Museum Board purchased a vacant former retail store for a new quilt museum. This move built on the momentum of listing the entire Winterset town square and downtown businesses on the National Register of Historic Places, the success of the John Wayne Birthplace Museum, and the community’s desire to revitalize its downtown area.

The 130 year old building reused the original hardwood floors, tin ceiling, woodwork, lights, and cabinets, as well as four turn of the century glass display cases salvaged from the John Wayne Museum. Energy efficient elements incorporated into the project include high efficiency HVAC, LED lighting, and removal of canvas awnings to bring natural light into the gift store.

Very little environmental and economic construction impact was sustained because the building was repurposed, utilities already existed, and needed only minor tuckpointing on a rear exterior wall. The historic integrity of the building was maintained, thus the National Register designation was maintained. By adaptively reusing an existing retail space, the final cost was about $15 per sq. ft. as opposed to estimated new construction cost of about $250 per sq. ft. minimum.

Indigo Dawn won the Mixed Use award for the Green & Main project in Des Moines (click through for photos).

The Mixed Use category features mixed use properties that combine both commercial and residential use. Notable aspects include but are not limited to minimized environmental impact, accessibility to affordable or mixed market-rate housing, use of sustainable building materials, utilization of energy-efficient technologies, plus the integration of walkability, placemaking, and alternative transportation options.

The Green & Main project transformed a complicated site into a successful mixed use building with a health center on the bottom floors and a residential apartment on upper level. It was known that the vacant, commercial building was on the National Register of Historic Places, but work for the geothermal system revealed an additional two historic foundations — a nineteenth century laundry and a Victorian house.

Many regional and community organizations contributed to the success of Green and Main in terms of donations, support, and volunteering. State brownfield and historic tax credit programs were used. An I-JOBS Improved Green Urban Stormwater Best Management Practices grant helped bring soil quality restoration, bioswales, permeable pavers, subterranean retention, a green roof, rain gardens, and rain barrels to the project. Passive and active solar strategies are used, such as double paned windows for the exterior, transom windows for the interior, and solar panels augment power consumption while shading a rooftop deck.

Each room can control its own climate with variable refrigerant flow technology and is supported by a geothermal well. Lighting is controlled by sensors, which feed data to the ISU Center for Building Energy Research. Waste diversion of 90 – 95% was achieved through resale, recycling or repurposing items through site source separation. The building sits on a bus route and has an electric charging station for alternative fuel vehicles. It is seeking LEED Platinum status.

Johnson County won the 2016 Innovative Leadership award for its Solar Array and Soil Quality Restoration at Johnson County Administration Building in Iowa City (click through for photos).

1000 Friends of Iowa had five independent jurors use the following criteria to score nominations.

Advocacy: raising awareness, effective communications, and influencing stakeholders to take action in support of projects aligned with the Mission of 1000 Friends of Iowa
Conservation: protecting natural and built resources and promoting sustainable practices
Community Outreach: creating inclusivity and measuring impact
Vision: applying principles and practices of sustainability, conservation or placemaking to programs and projects
Replication: encouraging others to follow as a model of success
[…]

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors had success with solar projects in the past. It saw this project as an opportunity to fulfill goals of its strategic plan — commitment to wise land use and reduction of impact on climate change. It also merged soil restoration with a solar array.

The array sits above a former brownfield site, adjacent to the Administration Building. Soil Quality Restoration beneath the array helps manage stormwater, improving water quality and reducing the amount of water that drains into nearby Ralston Creek, which outlets to the Iowa River. Low-grow, no-mow grass under the array was planted as a turf alternative. Located less than a mile from the center of Iowa City, the array and soil project are visible to thousands of passersby each day.

The County used an internal sustainability reinvestment fund for the project and was the first county to use Power Purchase Agreements. Rebates from utilities will roll into the fund for new projects, and staff has helped many other governments and non-profit organizations study solar feasibility and learn about reinvestment funds. Staff also educated its project partners about each other’s goals, and continues to educate employees in sustainable practices that support the projects of the reinvestment fund and of the fund itself. Energy production is tracked via B3 .

Steffensmeier Welding and Manufacturing won the 2016 Renewable Energy award for its Solar Field in Pilot Grove, an unincorporated area of Lee County (click through for photos).

The Renewable Energy category features the use of renewable energy on a small or large scale, such as civic or commercial implementation or residential or small business integration. Renewable energy includes sources such as wind, solar, hydropower, or geothermal. These projects will seek and have success in decreasing use of fossil fuels and reducing carbon emissions, as well as serving as viable models for others looking to adopt renewable energy solutions.

The Steffensmeier Solar Field was the result of employees meeting to determine the benefits of solar energy at the manufacturing plant. The Steffensmeier Solar Field is functioning at 100%, or 430.66 kW, and comprised of 1412-305 watt panels spanning 3-½ acres adjacent to the manufacturing headquarters in Pilot Grove, Iowa and will significantly reduce overall costs over a 4-5 year time period and have a return on costs after 5-6 years. It was designed to power all of the company’s electrical needs on a net-annual basis and is the first industrial manufacturing operation in Iowa. Using net-metering, the array will overproduce electricity in the summer, allowing credit to build with the serving utility. The credit is then drawn upon during winter months when production is lower due to shorter daylight periods and more cloudy days.

The City of Storm Lake won the 2016 award in the Stormwater: Civic category for its North Central Stormwater Project (click through for photos).

Our Stormwater Management category features projects that are successful in mitigating, directing, and decreasing storm water run off in urban or rural settings. Commercial, civic, or residential projects can include but are not limited to the use of natural or sustainable filtration systems with the aim to improve water quality through landscaping or streetscaping, or to recycle and reuse collected water for conservation purposes, such as landscape watering.

The North Central Storm Water Project was designed to relieve substantial overland flooding from approximately 150 acres of developed watershed consisting of residential and school property. A unique treatment train concept diverts storm water runoff from the main drainage channel into linear treatment basins in lieu of traditional pipe conveyance. This cost effective concept reduces infrastructure costs, provides significant regional flood control, reduces pollutant loading to Poor Farm Creek, adds aesthetics to the area, and is adaptive to future flooding. A sand-iron filing filtration system component was developed at the University of Minnesota as part of its Storm Water Research Program and augmented for this unique site application. Using a gabion weir sandwiched around the sand-iron filing filtration system represents the first time this innovative approach to removing soluble phosphorus has been implemented in the State of Iowa.

Cherry Glen Learning Farm, run by Ray and Sue Meylor, won the 2016 award in the Stormwater: Private category, for its Designed Watershed Mitigation in Polk City (click through for photos). I highly recommend a visit to this incredible facility.

Cherry Glen Learning Farm is the state’s first watershed mitigation farm and is located in Polk City. It also has solar-powered irrigation. Designed by the Polk County Soil and Water Conservation District, this 10 A farm has two basins, one of which connects to farm tile. The system receives mocha-looking high nitrate water and pumps clear and mostly-nitrate-free water through irrigation via solar power. Forty percent of the clean water is returned to the aquifer. Four acres are enrolled into prairie through NRCS, and another 4 A switched from commodity crops to annual agro-forestry cropping. A high tunnel and attached greenhouse extend the growing season, indoor and outdoor cooking centers are available for classes. On-site composting supplements the water management to improve soil health.

The Alley KADTS won the 2016 Urban Placemaking award for The Alley in Oskaloosa (click through for photos). You might have trouble believing the “before” and “after” pictures were taken in the same location.

Our Urban Placemaking/Green Spaces category spotlights spaces and attractions that combine sustainability, culture, inclusivity of an all-ages population, preservation of open spaces, and creative solutions that engage community members to interact with nature, with a local, small business economy, and with each other. Additional qualities include a community-led or multi-organizational effort with diverse stakeholders as well as accessibility for all to experience a sense of belonging and participation.

The Alley had many organizations and companies involved in its transformation from an unwelcoming, litter-ridden space to an open corridor from the local mall to the historic Oskaloosa square. A grassroots group led the effort in a makeover that includes tables, umbrellas, seating, strings of LED ambience lights, planters (repurposed livestock tanks) with attached ‘walls’ for signage displays, and an artistic metal entrance archway. The signage allows for historic markers, artwork, and business and personal signs.

Many community organizations and companies as well as the high school metal shop class were involved. The project was privately funded through grants, donations (cash and in-kind), advertising, and sponsorships to encourage community pride and ownership. The Alley has been used for community events, meetings, collaborations, musical and theatrical performances, as well as informal neighborly gatherings. The entrance arch embodies The Alley’s slogan, “Preserving Our Heritage While Building Our Future.”

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