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Merle Hay Road Gateway Area

Kayak to your favorite restaurant. Pop in to a new hotel with an ecological theme. Make your home in a luxury rental property with access to natural amenities and 35+ miles of trails.  This is the vision for Johnston's Merle Hay Road Gateway Area, perfectly situated on Interstate 35-80 where nearly 100,000 vehicles travel through every day.

The Gateway Area is 123 acres and runs along both sides of Merle Hay Road from Interstate 35-80 to NW 55th Avenue. As one of only two gateways into the city from the busy interstate, this area is on its way to becoming unlike any other in the Des Moines metro.  City leaders approved a redevelopment plan that has set the stage for a dramatic transformation to the front door of the city.

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Check out this video of what's planned for the Merle Hay Road Gateway Area.

The lush green space, expansive trail system, and proximity to Beaver Creek are what set this area apart.
The master plan sees an opportunity to expand recreation and tourism with the addition of more canoe and kayak launches along the creek to provide more opportunities to get on the water. An outdoor recreation retailer could even use portions of the creek to test equipment and provide training and educational opportunities for those interested in water sports.


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A scientific survey conducted in late 2015, shows Johnston residents would overwhelmingly support new development here. Nearly 8 out of 10 Johnston residents want the city to focus on bringing retail and restaurants to the city.  Residents tell us they want new development, more than they want a higher standard of living or lower taxes.  They're very satisfied with life in Johnston, but new restaurants and retail would make it even better,  they told us. 

The Merle Hay Gateway Area will answer their call.  It will be a development that is truly a destination, with specialized retail, sought-after restaurants, luxury townhomes, a new hotel and conference center or a corporate office headquarters.  Investments today serve as catalysts for long-term transformation.  Just ask leadership at Lithia of Des Moines, Inc.  They've invested more than $6 million in the Merle Hay Gateway Area by building a 17,650-square-foot Audi showroom, offices and service department and by significantly expanding and remodeling their existing Volkswagen showroom. 

Change is happening.  Here's why it will last.  Johnston has the second highest median household income of Des Moines metro cities at $115,348. During the recent recession, Johnston's median home values actually grew from $239,000 to $242,000. Today, Johnston's median home value has jumped to $262,900. Compared to the rest of the Des Moines metro, Johnston has the highest share of its population with graduate or higher level degrees.  These are just some of the reasons a new, vibrant development along Merle Hay Road will be sustainable for the long term.

The Merle Hay Road Gateway implementation plan recognizes the need for the City of Johnston to utilize financial incentives to begin and sustain improvements in the District, while specific incentives will be considered on a development by development basis, they could include tax increment financing, tax abatement, a revolving loan fund, special service districts and other economic incentives.  We stand ready to help make your investment a thriving success.

Just steps away from the Merle Hay Gateway Area, and connected by trail, is the $5.4 million Terra Lake project. The project is tying three integral areas: Terra Park, Beaver Creek Natural Resources Area, and Crown Point Community Center, to improve a massive, 200 acre park that will no doubt be enjoyed by Johnston residents and tens of thousands of visitors from across central Iowa.

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The centerpiece of the park is a beautiful eight acre fishing lake that will be surrounded by a great lawn for concerts and games, an open air civic shelter for large gatherings, a picnic pavilion, smaller shelters, a fishing pier, trails, handicap accessible children’s play structures, and numerous native plantings.  Residents already envision themselves coming here on hot summer nights to listen to cool jazz.  It's where kids will walk barefoot, fishing poles in hand, hoping for a bite.  Running clubs could fill the trails in the early mornings.  Families will pedal here during weekend bike rides.

Crown Point Community Center is included in the massive attraction - and it's getting its own $1.6 million dollar renovation.  Natural stone columns will line the gathering place, while a huge wrap-around patio is set to offer expansive views of Terra Lake and its trails.  Inside, visitors will find new educational and experiential learning programs, a place to bird watch, wildlife spotting scopes, and several areas for day camps to congregate.

Crown Point already houses Johnston's vibrant senior community, but this renovation will offer them even more.  Our boomers and seniors can't wait for new opportunities like bocce ball, yoga, weights and a community garden.  All housed in a natural setting in the middle of the city, Terra Lake and Crown Point will be the crown jewel of Johnston.

Conveniently connecting these important recreational projects to the Merle Hay Gateway Area, is a planned destination community park running along Beaver Creek.  Potential elements include a skate park, BMX track, dog park and trailhead. Less than one mile from north to south, the area encompassing the Merle Hay Road Gateway and Terra Park are becoming the beating heart of Johnston. 

During extensive research of the Gateway Area, AECOM conducted a preliminary market analysis which identified the market constraints and possibilities. Following input from many property owners and stakeholders, the City Council adopted the Redevelopment Plan on September 16, 2013.  Please click on the links below for more information on the plan.


If you would like additional information regarding this exciting plan contact Community Development Director David Wilwerding.