Playland Park plan aims to foster growth on each side of the Missouri

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Posted: Sunday, May 26, 2013 12:00 am

The 25-acre office and housing redevelopment proposed for Council Bluffs' Playland Park is expected to help set off a wave of multimillion-dollar investment in western Iowa that would help create a more united and bustling business district straddling both sides of the Missouri River.

“If we do this right, it's going to feel like one area,” said Jay Noddle of Noddle Companies, who also led key projects on the Nebraska side of the river in downtown Omaha. “It's the next chapter in the maturation of the metropolitan area.”

Before Noddle and a high-profile team that includes Waitt Real Estate and HDR agreed to take on the Playland Park redevelopment near 41st Street and Interstate 480, they wanted a bigger-picture study to make sure all area efforts were in sync to pull off a success.

For the next six to nine months, a City of Council Bluffs-led process is to lay out potential uses for gaps around West Broadway and up to 30th Street, including soon-to-be-removed grain elevators. The process will review and perhaps speed up scheduled roads plans to improve access into the Playland area.

It also will look at how to better connect Playland with key sites such as Dodge Riverside Golf Club, Tom Hanafan River's Edge Park and area casinos so that the western end of the Bluffs becomes all it can be, said Noddle, Waitt's Dana Bradford and HDR's Doug Bisson.

“We're unclear about what's totally possible here,” Bradford said.

He said a comprehensive view of what already is scheduled and goals for what should happen are vital to motivating the private sector into further developing West Broadway.

In the end, Bluffs Mayor Tom Hanafan said he's hoping to see a revived and extended riverfront area where residents on both sides live, work and play — and have a natural inclination to stroll across the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge to share each other's bounties.

“We're two states, and we have a river between us,” Hanafan said. “But Council Bluffs is becoming more of a downtown Omaha with this development, and west Council Bluffs is merging closer to downtown Omaha.”

Although the Playland Park site has long been a focus for redevelopment, an effort launched in earnest last week when the City Council gave Hanafan the go-ahead to begin to lay out responsibilities and details with the Noddle-Waitt-HDR team.

An earlier bid process had produced ideas for Playland from three developers, Hanafan said, but the plans were limited. Those bidders could be brought in later to complete chunks within the site, Hanafan said, but the city preferred to have a master developer control the overall project.

Aware of Noddle's work at midtown Omaha's Aksarben Village and on the Omaha side of the riverfront, Hanafan said that his administration pursued the Omaha-based company. Noddle was involved in the evolution of the Omaha riverfront, and his companies led development of the National Park Service's regional headquarters as well as the Gallup campus.

[RELATED: Developers hope to model Playland Park site in Bluffs after Omaha's Aksarben Village]

Noddle also had a hand in the First National Tower, the John Gottschalk Freedom Center, ConAgra Foods campus and Heartland of America Park.

“We've been there before,” said Noddle. “We've had pretty complicated settings and have worked with a lot of governmental entities.”

Some of the biggest hurdles to a successful Playland redesign reach beyond the actual 25 acres where go-karts and Ferris wheels once ran.

Council Bluffs residents, for example, aren't accustomed to congregating near the Iowa riverfront. In fact, to get to Playland from within the Bluffs, motorists must take a meandering route.

Fixes already were scheduled for roadways and Interstate access, but Bisson said the review is expected to bring entities together to ensure that all plans jibe.

Physical access is easier from the Nebraska side, but Bradford said some Omahans have a mental block. “It is not in the mindset to go to that Playland site,” he said.

The Noddle-Waitt-HDR team will begin marketing the Playland site even as the comprehensive review goes on. They expect Playland to be roughly a $60 million project but expect that and other Bluffs improvements such as River's Edge Park to spark much more in spin-off development and jobs in surrounding neighborhoods.

“The area to the east could see five or 10 times the amount of that investment over time,” said Noddle, adding that subsequent projects typically are easier because they're not so “pioneering.”

Bradford said the broad public, private and philanthropic investment strengthens the effort.

Details aren't firm, but at the Playland site, Noddle anticipates three or four styles of housing, including single-family residences and apartments. Two developers have expressed a desire to build condominiums.

A small hotel might fit, said Noddle. Entertainment and retail outlets also are possibilities.

Noddle noted “strong interest” for office space in the area, which is just minutes from Eppley Airfield.

Hanafan said the city-owned land likely would be sold or transferred to the Noddle team, and his administration would include protections in case the project did not come to fruition.

The Army Corps of Engineers would be involved in planning, although Hanafan said Playland is far enough from the river that he's not concerned about flooding.

To be sure, many projects already were underway to smooth the way for development in the Bluffs.

Hanafan said two large grain elevators in the 3000 to 3300 blocks between West Broadway and Second Avenue are to be demolished starting this summer. Railroad tracks in the way of development already were pulled. The mayor said that should open 16 to 20 acres.

Calling Broadway a “front door to our community,” Hanafan said the street has been underused.

“You can look down Broadway and see what used to be there,” he said. Few homes exist where there once were many. A manufacturing plant moved.

“With the elevators gone, and other change in that area, this underdeveloped area has an opportunity for growth,” he said.

Hanafan said his administration is working with the Department of Transportation on how to rebuild West Broadway. “It's like a puzzle. How does each piece fit?”

A huge recreational piece was put in place last week when the Bluffs officially opened its 95-acre Tom Hanafan River's Edge Park along the Missouri River. Numerous public events are happening there in the coming weeks.

The Iowa West Foundation funded River's Edge Park, and President Pete Tulipana said the foundation also will invest in a 1.5-acre park on the Playland site.

Tulipana said Iowa West's reach will extend farther on West Broadway, to the viaduct just east of 16th Street, through a fund it established to help the city acquire and rehabilitate property for continued development.

Hanafan said new uses for Broadway and Playland have been a long time coming.

“I'm excited,” he said. “This is going to change the complexion of the town a lot.”

Contact the writer: 402-444-1224, cindy.gonzalez@owh.com

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