Johnston Eyesore Could Soon Be Town Crown Jewel

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JOHNSTON, Iowa -- The city of Johnston launched its plan to redevelop Merle Hay Road three years ago. And soon, an eyesore will no longer stand in the way.

The North End Diner hasn't served a meal since 2008 and the Best Western Hotel hasn't rented a room in that same time.

“You see across the street a boarded up old decrepit hotel that's falling apart. It's just an eyesore for the community and an eyesore for our customers to see it across the street,” said Anthony Gladney, of Audi GM Des Moines.

North end diner

North End Diner, Johnston.

City leaders initiated a new vision for the Merle Hay Road gateway in 2013 with advancements such as a $6 million expansion of the Lithia Motors campus.

"We are so close to the interstate here with easy access. You can get on and off,” said Johnston Mayor Paula Dierenfeld. “We’ve got a beautiful new business that we've invested in."

But Dierenfeld says the buildings, which have been vacant since 2009, are holding the entire city of Johnston from its full potential.

“We really couldn't get people interested in the redevelopment in this area. It was a real impediment for developers to even consider it,” she said.

It took seven years and lengthy conversations, but the city struck a deal with the site’s ownership at Metro Lodging LC.

“I believe the property owner finally took a look at the condition of the facility and realized it couldn't be rehabilitated,” Dierenfeld said. “I think he realized that if he demolished the hotel, it might make it easier for him to sell the property for another use."

And the demolition won’t cost Johnston residents a thing.

“Demolition is being done by the property owner so that is being done at no cost the property tax owners here in Johnston,” Dierenfeld said.

Demolition of the longtime diner and hotel will take about two months transforming this area of the Merle Hay Road gateway into a potential crown jewel. Johnston residents and local business owners are just happy to see progress.

“It's all about our community. It's all about our business and investing in the future,” Dierenfeld said.

The city is also beginning landscaping improvements next to the demolition site to improve visibility and access from the area to Beaver Creek and the city's parks and trail network.