September 17, 2021

Reinvestment district projects affect DMACC, Legacy Plaza, downtown Newton

An in-depth look at the city’s application to IEDA

Projects included in Newton’s reinvestment district application, which were presented to the Iowa Economic Development Authority Board and are awaiting confirmation to possibly receive millions of dollars in state funds, are expected to expand retail, improve infrastructure and create new attractions.

IEDA will make $100 million available to select communities, which could be chosen as early as May 21; however, the board will likely make a final decision sometime next year after cities submit a follow-up application with more details, Newton News previously reported.

If the application is accepted and the reinvestment district is established, state funding — in the form of future sales tax and hotel/motel tax revenues generated within the district’s boundaries — will funnel through to the City of Newton and be distributed in regular payments over a 20-year period.

Currently, only six communities presented to IEDA. Newton Legacy Iowa Reinvestment District is divided into three main factions of projects helmed by the key stakeholders: Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC), the City of Newton and Catalyst Development Newton LLC.

DMACC Projects: New Retail and Public Improvement

DMACC wants to focus its projects on expanding its academic programming and developing infrastructure and the construction of a commons area and a greenspace in Legacy Plaza. Ever since taking ownership of the Maytag headquarters, DMACC has worked to ingrain Legacy Plaza in the community.

The city stated in its application the project builds off of Legacy Plaza’s history as a gathering space. It also wants to fill existing space. Currently, less than 15 percent of the 482,000 square feet of usable space is being utilized. DMACC wants to transform Legacy Plaza with a mix of projects.

The commons area is envisioned to create more opportunities for outdoor multi-generational gatherings to support current and future businesses. DMACC wants the courtyard to feature permanent food trucks and retail kiosks constructed from rail storage containers rented out to entrepreneurs.

Outdoor seating and fire pits made to look like old washing tubs — a nod to Maytag — will be included in the commons, alongside sculptures and trellises to make the space appealing through all seasons, the city’s application states. Public art will continue to be displayed and expanded.

DMACC also envisions an open-air walking history exhibit to tell the story of entrepreneurship in Newton. The community college also wants to build out restaurant space for full-service dining and will host a competition “to offer the lease of the space at cost.”

Restaurants will likely provide opportunities for DMACC culinary and baking students to engage in work-based learning. Additional retail space will be built in a former Maytag building to feature storefront openings onto the courtyard. A co-op marketplace would also be established.

Gezellig Brewing Co.’s manufacturing space would likely be expanded, too. A bike repair stand will also be located on the east end of the courtyard, encouraging cyclists on the city’s hike and bike trail to make a pitstop to Legacy Plaza. Grants would also allow DMACC to install charging stations.

Legacy Plaza is also home to five acres of greenspace where a Maytag manufacturing facility once stood. Included in the space will be a central art sculpture, shade structures, landscaping an open activity lawn, a six-story mural and an ice rink.

DMACC wants to also expand its eduction to include a cyber security program to build pathway for high schoolers to pursue a career in IT. The application stats cyber security specialists are in high demand and would offer “an excellent career option for students.”

The college also wants to create an applied engineering technology program to directly meet the needs of area industry. Local manufacturers need individuals who can repair, install, adjust or maintain industrial production and processing machinery, the city said.

To meet the needs of these new programs, DMACC’s project includes the build-out of computer labs and equipment, as well as the remodeling and refitting of an existing auto tech lab. Improvements would also be made to the campus library and academic learning center.

This set of projects is estimated to cost more than $20 million. The city requested more than $7 million in state assistance from the IEDA.

City of Newton: The Resiliency Zone

Newton’s projects largely concentrate on infrastructure improvements, filling vacant buildings, expanding grant programs and the creation of a splash pad and a bike path connector. The city said the projects are intended to create a strong connection between Legacy Plaza and the historic downtown.

The city’s Downtown Improvement Grant Program allows for the creation of upper-story housing units in abandoned or underutilized floors of buildings, signage, non-historic facade removal, historic facade rehabilitation, awnings, painting and permanent restaurant equipment.

Currently, the city says it has 20 vacancies and estimates about 105,000 square feet of space is under-utilized (both retail space and upper stories). Newton proposed to be intentional about filling and improving vacant buildings by utilizing TIF incentives such as tax rebates or forgivable loans.

A proposed splash pad project was developed by local volunteers, who’ve convinced the city to reserve a city-owned parcel for construction. Volunteers say the project would attract families to Newton and provide entertainment for locals with young children as well.

Newton has been incrementally constructing a hike and bike loop around the perimeter of the city, the application states. The loop is three-fourths of the way complete. The last portion is expected to be completed in 2022. The city proposed a connector into and across Legacy Plaza and into downtown.

Infrastructure improvements come in the form of road reconstruction and overlay projects in certain streets, streetscape light installation and LED conversion projects. The city would also mill and asphalt overlay the 200-300 blocks of West Third Street North.

This set of projects is estimated to cost more than $1.49 million. The city requested $372,500 in state assistance.

Catalyst Development: New Lessor

Catalyst Development will enter into a purchase agreement with DMACC to purchase four buildings of the former Maytag corporate headquarters. The historic buildings will repurposed into a 58-room boutique hotel, more than 50 apartments and 500-seat event center with banquet kitchen.

According to the city’s application to IEDA, these three elements “will bring new life and defined purpose to the former Maytag buildings.” These new additions will also be “critical to supporting the retail, dining and entertainment destination of Legacy Plaza and the historic central business district.”

Newton’s market-rate housing stock is very low. From 2001 to 2018, the city had no new multi-family apartments built in the area. The demand for additional rental housing is at an all-time high, the city stated in its application. As a result DMACC students can sometimes be deterred from enrolling.

The proposed apartments would feature an “industrial chic design” and include amenities that the modern workforce demands.

Using Buildings 1 and 2 of Legacy Plaza as the 58-room hotel will fulfill two market needs: temporary housing for a transient workforce and overnight accommodations for leisure guests. Each room will be large enough to be outfitted with larger bathrooms and kitchenettes for extended stays.

Also included in the hotel is a lobby bar, which the writers of the application say is a “critical amenity for an upscale hotel.” In addition to serving customers spirits, the bar will serve as a breakfast venue and provide a space to showcase the culinary efforts of the DMACC baking program in Newton.

The full cocktail and coffee bar — featuring a vintage industrial design — will also have sandwiches for lunch and wood-fired pizzas for dinner. Desserts made by DMACC students be offered throughout the day, too. The bar will connect Legacy residents, Plaza workforce, locals and visitors, the city says.

The Legacy Ballroom is expected to “make for a compelling event destination.” Many of the events will be primarily social in nature, such as weddings and meetings. However, the space can be used for corporate trade shows and symposiums, as well as entertainment through live performances or concerts.

This set of projects is estimated to cost more than $23 million. The city has requested more than $8 million in state assistance for this particular project.

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com

Christopher Braunschweig

Reporter with a strong penchant for community journalism.