Ernst tours DMACC campus

Source: Newton Daily News

The departure of Maytag may have been years ago, but things are moving again at Newton’s DMACC campus.

With nearly a half a million square feet for lease, the campus is hoping to find tenants they can partner with to create a mixed use development that will enhance the student experience while also helping DMACC covers the costs associated with maintaining the sprawling campus on the west edge of Newton’s downtown.

On Thursday, Sen. Joni Ernst toured the campus, as part of her 99 county tour.

“There’s a lot of opportunity here,” Ernst said, as she toured the campus Thursday.

When Maytag, now owned by Whirlpool, pulled up stakes and left town, developer Reza Kargarzadeh bought the Maytag campus for $1. After maintaining the buildings for several years, Kargarzadeh donated the buildings to DMACC. The donation is worth about $9 million in real estate, structures, utilities and furniture and includes about 472,000 square feet of office, industrial and residential space.

Buildings 1, 2, 16, 17, 18, 20 and 50 joined the main DMACC building and the Career Academy as part of the college’s Newton presence. This month will mark the one year anniversary of that donation, and Kim Didier, the Executive Director of DMACC’s business resources division, is tasked with finding new tenants to occupy space at the former Maytag location.

Didier has a long history with the location, having previously worked for Maytag, as well as heading up the Newton Development Corporation — an organization which works to attract businesses to Newton. All told, Didier has spent more than 18 years in Newton.

“There’s plenty of space here, we’re hoping to collaborate with future tenants,” Didier said.

Didier envisions striking partnerships between DMACC and local businesses that will give students an opportunity to “earn and learn.” She’s hoping to attract tenants like a restaurant or brewpub into the former Maytag company store that will give students in Newton an opportunity to participate in DMACC’s culinary programs without having to make the drive to Ankeny.

Joe DeHart, provost of the Newton campus, said DMACC officials envision creating a space that will allow residents to live, work, shop and learn. Creating some new housing options is a top priority, DeHart said.

“Ideally, we’d like to pair with a developer on a mixed use space,” DeHart said. “We want to create some living spaces for students with flexible terms.”

Keeping some of that housing open for students would complement market rate housing at the space, giving students the option of flexible leasing terms, a move DeHart said makes sense for students who may not be looking to get locked into a long-term lease. The biggest challenge DeHart and Didier are facing is finding a developer who’s willing to work with DMACC. Ideally, they’d like to draw in a developer from a larger market with a proven track record who can get the ball rolling.

“We want to get a developer who’s interested in creating some housing on campus,” Didier said. “Our first goal would be to create market rate housing and add student housing in, as well.”

Whether it’s an agreement with a developer who’s looking to partner with the college on a housing project or big tenant, both DeHart and Didier are eager to get the ball rolling on the project.

As they toured the space with Ernst Thursday afternoon, the Senator saw her own possibilities for the project — she thinks some of the space could potentially house a government agency. Ernst recently introduced the SWAMP act. If passed, it could pave the way for federal agencies to relocate outside of the Washington, D.C. area, possibly even to Iowa.

SWAMP, which stands for Strategic Withdrawal of Agencies for Meaningful Placement, would force federal agencies to look beyond the nation’s capital to house their operations. The legislation would create a bidding process which would allow cities, counties and states to compete, via  a bid process for different federal agencies. In a statement released last week Ernst said the move would create opportunities for job growth across the country.

“Every day, out-of-touch federal government agencies and bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. make important decisions and rules that directly impact the lives of folks across the United States,” Ernst said. “The SWAMP Act seeks to get the federal government outside of the Washington beltway, so these federal agencies can see and hear first-hand the impact their policies have on the folks who know their states, businesses and needs the best.”

At least one state agency has already expressed a tentative interest in calling Legacy Plaza home. Officials from the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy visited the campus last year, and Judy Bradshaw, the agency’s director, said the location would be “ideal” for ILEA. The ILEA, which is operating out of a facility in Johnston located on the grounds of Camp Dodge, has struggled with facilities issues recently, including an infestation of black mold.

Bradshaw said the organization has looked at the space in Newton but any potential move is still in the early planning stages right now.

“We’re exploring our options at this point, we’ve had some conversations with the president of DMACC and city officials,” Bradshaw said.

DMACC officials say they’re looking for a tenant like ILEA, who will help them create partnerships that will allow them to serve their student population. DeHart said landing the ILEA could lead to an increase in the criminal justice offerings the Newton campus offers.

Didier said the ideal relationship would create a “synergized partnership” that would provide a benefit to the students at Newton’s DMACC campus. No matter what tenant fills the space, DeHart stressed that serving the school’s student population is still DMACC’s primary mission.

“Students are our core mission,” DeHart said. “These are just things that make the campus more attractive and benefit students as well.”

Even though the campus still has plenty of space to fill, DeHart said the facility has already become an integral part of the community. The former Maytag headquarters has been utilized as a rental location, wedding bookings have been strong and the space has also hosted numerous community events. The rental business is filling a need in the community, as well as helping the college generate revenue.

“It’s given us a key role as a partner in the community,” DeHart said.