CEDAR FALLS, Iowa --- Rome wasn't built in a day. The same is true of Pinnacle Prairie.
It's about 780 acres. It has the potential for up to 1,500 dwelling units, equal to a tenth of the city's households. It could hold commercial development worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
It's been 10 years in the making. Only about one-third of the acreage has been developed. Some proposals were opposed by neighbors. Progress was slowed by the 2008 economic downturn.
But now a confluence of events, including the completion of a main thoroughfare through the area, could lead to an explosion of development.
"We're positioned for very significant growth," said Merrill Oster, on whose land the project is being developed. "We've probably grown $70 million for the city so far, and when we're done, probably $400 million. We're still probably 10 years away from that."
That would be roughly 14 percent of the total $2.7 billion in assessed valuation in Cedar Falls.
Lockard Development is in charge of the project.
Oster, an ag commodities publishing entrepreneur who now lives near Chicago, visits often.
Signs of growth are everywhere:
Home construction is underway in The Villages, near the western end of the Green Creek housing development and just west of Valley Lutheran School.
Village Cooperative of Cedar Falls is building a multistory residential building.
The Western Home South Main Street campus continues to grow on the west end of the project.
Commercial developments near East Viking Road, on the south end of Pinnacle, are ready to take off, including a proposed retail "power center" strip mall.
Immanuel Lutheran Church has staked out a site for its new home as it relocates from Waterloo.
Prairie Parkway, a north-south arterial between Greenhill and Viking roads, should be completed this year.
Developers and city officials agree completion of Prairie Parkway will be the catalyst for significant commercial development.
It should ease traffic congestion in the busy Walmart-Target-Menards area. It is seen as a safer alternative to Iowa Highway 58 for motorists trying to access the big-box retail stores on East Viking Road east of Highway 58, and it more directly connects residents in Pinnacle Prairie and neighborhoods to the north, like the Briarwood Hills addition, to the stores along East Viking.
Ron Gaines, director of developmental services with the city of Cedar Falls, said with the economy improving, many businesses are ripe for expansion and relocation.
"Coupled with the fact that you're going to open up pretty much all the acres with Prairie Parkway, we believe that development will take off," Gaines said.
That should include new restaurants Gaines said. "You have 7,000 employees right across the highway in the industrial park."
Bid letting on Prairie Parkway is expected in mid-June, pending resolution of wetlands issues. To mitigate wetlands lost for the road project, Lockard and the Black Hawk County Conservation Board plan a wetlands area at Hickory Hills Park to help preserve Casey Lake there. The Conservation Board approved the project May 9, county conservation director Vern Fish said. State and federal approvals are anticipated within 60 days.
The road, which will cost an estimated $2 million and be paid for with tax increment financing, could be open as soon as Thanksgiving weekend, Gaines said.
One builder already in the ground at Pinnacle Prairie is Brook Klunder of Klunder Homes, who is building condos and larger single-family homes.
"The main reason we got in here is that real estate is location," Klunder said. "Easy access to Cedar Falls. Easy access to Waterloo."
The presence of several churches, as well as Valley Lutheran School, will add to the area's stability, he said.
About half of the lots Klunder is developing have sold.
"In the last year, we've really seen the area come to life," he said.
The portion of the development off the existing Prairie Parkway --- where Lockard's office headquarters are located at Greenhill Road --- already sports a fledgling office park, including MidWestOne Bank, and several medical offices and clinics.
A new 'front door'
Kris Hansen, CEO of Western Home Communities, said the senior care organization plans to construct new residential cottages --- with licensed nursing care for residents with dementia issues --- as well as larger buildings for people recuperating from procedures such as hip and knee replacements. Those lots will stretch right up to Prairie Parkway.
"South Main Street," the main access now, "will kind of become our back door," Hansen said. "Prairie Parkway, with probably 16,000 vehicles a day, that's definitely becoming our front door, I'd say, within the next five years."
"Even though we're a nonprofit, with our independent living, assisted living, those residents do pay property taxes. If you add up all that residential tax base, we've got one of the largest communities in the county," Hansen said.
At its south end, Prairie Parkway emerges onto Viking Road just west of the new Menards store with a roundabout at Brandilynn Boulevard. The prospect of its completion is triggering interest in more commercial development near Viking Road.
"We have a piece of land between the Menards and the Walmart which we're going to be looking to do, hopefully, a power center," said Dave Wilson, vice president with Lockard Development. That's his term for a retail mini-mall, similar to those around Crossroads Center in Waterloo.
It's a far cry from the controversy of a decade ago, when an initial proposal to locate Walmart and a Lowe's building supply store along Greenhill Road drew vehement protests from neighbors.
One of those neighbors was Don Tamisiea, a former Cedar Falls Chamber of Commerce executive vice president who lived in the area since the mid-1960s. Now, Tamisiea lives in a Western Home villa, not far from where Prairie Parkway will be built.
"As it's developed now, I think it's great," he said of Pinnacle Prairie.
The developers said steady growth was always the vision for Pinnacle Prairie. It was always seen as a 20-year project. Now, that vision is coming to fruition.
"We have fought through some issues with some of our projects," Wilson conceded. "We brought some stuff that didn't work way back when. "But we want to grow this area. I think we're on the right track."