Growth in Johnston Leads City to Add New Role and More Redevelopment

JOHNSTON, Iowa - It's out with the old, and in with the new at Johnston's Merle Hay Road Gateway.

"Over the years, the corridor has just gotten a little tired," Johnston's Community Development Director, Dave Wilwerding said.

Johnston's recent special census - the first since 2000 - showed the city has now reached just over 20,000 residents. This significant milestone has pushed city officials to redevelop parts of the area seen as dull or dragging. Sprucing up Johnston's entrance will bring it to the next level, Wilwerding says. Where an old hotel once sat along Merle Hay Road will now be opened up for retail, restaurants, office space, and a nature trail connecting to the Beaver Creek that will allow bikers and boaters alike to take the scenic route throughout town.

"We're able to make improvements right next door to Beaver Creek and our regional trail system that would allow you to ride your bike to a restaurant, or kayak to a restaurant," he said. "Really tying nature back into this area and revitalizing it."

According to city surveys, residents want more retail in Johnston. That's why multi-person housing complexes are going up down the road; the city says more residents will bring in more retail. And as more economic development spurs, the city is adding a new position at City Hall: an Economic Development Manager.

"Right now, we sort of approach economic development from a team perspective - it's one hat that several of us wear amongst many hats," Wilwerding said. "And so this will be the first time we've had someone dedicated full-time to really focusing on economic development efforts, incentives, our redevelopment areas."

All of this is happening as the city's $5.5 million investment at Terra Park comes to fruition. Halfway complete, the city hopes this will become the Gray's Lake of northern Des Moines, and with it, more growth for Johnston.

"Terra Park really will become our regional gem within our trail system, and our park system," Wilwerding said. "It will become our community destination point for activities and events, and really be a focal point of our parks and trail system."