Heart of America Group – The Shoppes at Prairie Crossing

Heart of America picHeart of America’s investment in a high-profile corner of Altoona, Iowa, is beginning to pay off with its Shoppes at Prairie Crossing project.
By Jim Harris

Heart of America Group’s acquisition of 176 acres of land near the junction of Interstate 80 and Interstate 65 in Altoona, Iowa, beginning in the year 2000 raised more than a few eyebrows among the company’s real estate development peers.

“People had wondered why we would buy such a remote site,” CEO Mike Whalen says. “Obviously, today, they understand why.”

The Moline, Ill.-based developer subsequently purchased additional lots in the area, bringing its total to more than 230 acres. The purchases followed Whalen’s learning of a highway loop project that would link the northeast corner of the Des Moines metro area – in which Altoona is located – to the southwest corner. That loop – completed in 2007 – brought a much higher profile to the region, making it more desirable for commercial development, Whalen adds.

Heart of America Group in 2007 completed its first property on the site – a Bass Pro Shops location. Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse – a restaurant concept first developed by Heart of America Group in 2002 that today has 10 locations in six Midwestern states – opened in 2014.

On the Prairie

Bass Pro Shops and Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse are just the first two of several planned retail and restaurant uses on the site, known as The Shoppes at Prairie Crossing. Master planning and design for the development is being provided by Looney Ricks Kiss (LRK) of Memphis, Tenn. “We want to ultimately create a development with restaurants, hotels, multifamily housing and retail that will be walkable and bikeable,” Whalen says.

Heart of America Group’s construction division in May 2015 began work on a four-story, 60,345-square-foot Fairfield Inn and Suites hotel. The 104-room hotel, which features a design inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie style of architecture, is a wood structure with an exterior finish and insulation system (EIFS) and stone façade, Vice President of Construction John Schulz says. Heart of America box

The 104-room hotel includes a geothermal heating and cooling system and an insulated shell. Building amenities include a fitness center as well as close proximity to the rest of the development. The hotel will open later this year.

Further retail uses in Shoppes at Prairie Crossing will also open in 2017. This includes the Hubbell Avenue Retail Center, now under construction. Heart of America Group is

building and developing the property, which will include 50,000 square feet of retail in its first phase. One of those retailers will occupy a 10,000-square-foot space.

General contractor Ryan Construction last fall started work on Outlets of Des Moines, a 300,000-square-foot outlet center developed and managed by New England Development, which purchased 38 acres on the site from Heart of America Group.

Heart of America Group will begin construction on four apartment buildings this fall. “This development is moving in a number of different directions as potential users contact us,” Whalen says. “All the pieces are starting to come into place. Everyone is now seeing that this is a place where they have to be, and that is exciting to us.”

In addition to Heart of America’s developments, the western portion of the Des Moines region is seeing massive investment from major companies including Facebook and Microsoft, both of which are building data centers in the area, notes Christopher Whalen, the company’s director of development and Mike Whalen’s son.

“Everyone now sees the corner of I-80 and I-65 as a major growth area,” Mike Whalen adds.

Fully Integrated

Whalen founded Heart of America Group in 1978. The company has evolved from owning and operating a single, 100-seat restaurant – The Machine Shed – to a portfolio of 31 restaurants and hotels, 150,000 square feet of office space, an 1.4 million square feet of retail and hospitality space. The company operates in 10 metropolitan areas across Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Heart of America Group’s construction division builds projects mainly for its parent company, giving it a unique perspective on construction quality. “We have to eat our own cooking, so to speak,” Whalen says.

In addition to its construction division, Heart of America operates architecture and property management group. “We are completely integrated,” Schulz says. “Just sitting around a table, we can take a concept from start to finish in a few hours, and many companies can’t do that.

“We have the ability to build anywhere at anytime, and have the ability to deliver quickly,” he adds. “With many companies, developing a concept can be a long process – with us, we can just make a decision and execute on it.”

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