Rock Rapids announces major land acquisition for developmentROCK RAPIDS, Iowa — Rock Rapids community leaders gathered before a crowd of nearly 150 people Friday to announce the purchase of 146 acres of land on the city’s west side for commercial development, a water retention pond, single and multi-family housing construction and a possible building project for Merrill Pioneer Community Hospital.
By: Julie Buntjer, Worthington Daily Globe
ROCK RAPIDS, Iowa — Rock Rapids community leaders gathered before a crowd of nearly 150 people Friday to announce the purchase of 146 acres of land on the city’s west side for commercial development, a water retention pond, single and multi-family housing construction and a possible building project for Merrill Pioneer Community Hospital.
Plans for the Forster Development were unveiled during a 10 a.m. press conference in downtown Rock Rapids. The community’s economic development director, John Hulshof, said a couple of commercial projects are expected to be developed yet this year.
“We purchased 146 acres because the current owner would either sell all of it or none,” said Hulshof. “(The) 146 acres is a big economic commitment from an organization like ours that doesn’t have a lot of cash.”
Though Hulshof would only say market price was paid for the parcel, information obtained from the Lyon County Assessor’s Office showed a sale price of $1,316,790.
That’s the equivalent of nearly $9,020 per acre for the land, which is located in Section 5 of Rock Township and known to locals as the Wubbena farm.
Partners in the land purchase include the Merrill Pioneer Community Hospital, the city of Rock Rapids and Rock Rapids Utilities, which will commit to the development project financially and through installation of infrastructure.
Marlin Overman, president of the Merrill Pioneer Community Hospital Association, said its board has committed to purchase 20 acres of the Forster Development for possible construction of updated medical facilities “should it be determined that a project is appropriate and feasible.”
Rock Rapids Mayor Jason Chase called the purchase “one of the largest projects in history” for the community. He said the land will add 15 percent more livable space in Rock Rapids, and allow the city to construct the much-needed retention pond.
Hulshof said the community has been land-locked for several years, which has made it difficult for business expansion along U.S. 75 and for housing development.
“There currently aren’t very many areas where you can have multiple housing — new houses together — and that has really thwarted our growth,” he said. “As a result, we do not have a nice diversity in our inventory of housing.”
In the coming weeks, Hulshof plans to take a survey among the community’s seniors to determine the needs for senior housing projects. Multi-family housing projects would likely follow, he added.
Scott Schneidermann, president of the Rock Rapids Development Corp., said they will also begin work on a spec building, thanks to a $360,000 grant.
“One of the primary locations we’re looking at is in this new development,” Schneidermann said.
Recreational options, including a bike path, are also being considered south of the existing Forster ball fields.
“This gives Rock Rapids and Lyon County a good foundation for future growth,” said Steve Simons, Lyon County Economic Development Director. “It gives us a good starting point for commercial, recreational, residential and multi-family projects.”
Simons said what is good for Rock Rapids is good for Lyon County, which learned Thursday it would be home to a $120 million resort and casino project. The resort is being developed five miles northwest of Larchwood, and is anticipated to open in June 2011. Larchwood is located approximately 14 miles west of Rock Rapids.
“Hopefully the Lyon County resort will create opportunities throughout the county for employment with 700 jobs (anticipated),” said Simons. “That, hopefully, will create the need for more residential housing for those people and over time, business and services to support them.”
Hulshof said the land will be resold to the Forster Trust, which will inventory it and make parcels available as development progresses.
“We’ll develop it in tiers,” he said, adding that plans are for the current tenant to continue renting the land until it is needed for development.
The James and Ella Forster Charitable Trust was established in 1987 with a little more than $1 million. Since then, approximately $3.3 million has been awarded for local projects that benefit the community. Schneidermann said the trust is valued at nearly $5 million today.
Bruce Jennings, Forster Trust trustee, said the Forster Development is the first project of its kind that the trust will manage.
“It’s investing the assets of the trust in something that will benefit the community over the long-term,” said Jennings. “We’re excited to see what opportunities come up from that.”
The Forster Trust has been instrumental in many projects in town, from the Forster Auditorium at the school to the slides at the swimming pool and the Forster Community Center, where Friday’s announcement was made.
Hulshof said community leaders began developing plans for the parcel about a year ago and said now is a good time to begin work to develop it.
“During a recession is a good time for a community like ours to catch up because it’s kind of quiet on the economic development front all around the country,” said Hulshof. “A project like this really gives us a chance to start leveling the playing field.”