Under construction: Madden reflects on Campustown’s shift


Kelby Wingert/Iowa State Daily

Construction in the former location of First National Bank on Lincoln Way across from the Memorial Union continues on Aug. 25. A new luxury student apartment building will be built in the location.  Student housing is at an all-time high demand, requiring the construction of new student apartments.

Danielle Ferguson

When Warren Madden was a student at Iowa State in the 1950s, Campustown was lined with sharply dressed students meandering along Lincoln Way exploring small local businesses, grocery stores, drug stores and suit and dress shops.

In the past 60 years, businesses have come and gone in Campustown, and Madden, senior vice president for business and finance, said the fluctuating economy and changes in university size and demographic are top factors.

Today, the Ames community is watching Campustown take on redevelopment. The area along Lincoln Way from Welch Avenue to Stanton Avenue is a sight of muddy holes in the ground beneath a looming crane that is preparing to lay the foundation of projects by Kingland Systems, Gilbane, Inc., The Opus Group and Randall Corporation.

Madden’s student experience with Campustown is different than what a student might expect today. For instance, alcohol was nowhere to be found in Campustown and a few bars were located in downtown Ames, Madden said.

Madden also said that student attire has changed dramatically, affecting the shops in Campustown.

“Students don’t walk around in coats and ties and suits,” Madden said. “Women don’t wear dresses the same way they used to. When I was a student at Iowa State, women wore skirts to class.”

Changes in student commodity desires have attracted more stores such as chain restaurants, tattoo parlors, tanning salons and now more student housing, replacing smaller local shops throughout the years. Much of this, Madden said, was driven by the marketplace and the student enrollment increase at Iowa State.

The enrollment increase has attracted new business prospects looking into building in Campustown.

“The student growth at Iowa State has built a need for additional houses, and the students become customers for businesses,” Madden said.

Some of the housing project designs show six-story buildings, Madden said, with the top five stories housing students and the bottom floor hosting commercial and retail businesses.

“For years, there was talk about remodeling Campustown,” said Kim Hanna, the director of the Campustown Action Association. “And now it’s very obvious that it’s happening. People are interested to see what it will look like when it’s done.”

Campustown wasn’t always a hot spot. In the early-to-mid 2000s, Madden said the university launched a Campustown initiative to begin a redevelopment effort. The resolution came to a halt when the economy went negative.

“The enrollment at Iowa State grew much more rapidly than we had originally thought in 2008,” Madden said. “[Enrollment] was maybe 28,000 when we started some of these conversations.”

Madden said changes in traffic patterns also altered Campustown’s attendance. For example, in 2009, the Varsity Theater at 2412 Lincoln Way closed its doors because construction along 13th Street diverted driver and pedestrian traffic away from Lincoln Way, according to a 2009 Iowa State Daily article.

The redevelopment effort was put on hold until the last few years when enrollment increased unexpectedly.

Dan Culhane, president and CEO of the Ames Chamber of Commerce, agreed the enrollment increase drives much of the Campustown redevelopment, and that the redevelopment effort came at a time when the market wasn’t ready.

“The markets are ready now,” Chulane said. “That’s why you see so much interest. You’ve got three projects on Lincoln Way, another one on Chamberlin and others that are in the planning stages. The market has gotten to a point where it’s time for things to change.”

Todd Rognes, president of Kingland Systems, said he is excited to see the 25,000 square foot project on the corner of Lincoln Way and Welch completed. The project will be three floors — the bottom floor will host commercial retailers, including a CVS Pharmacy, and the top two floors will be office space for Kingland and Iowa State.

Kingland has been in Campustown since 2004 and has provided about 1,200 students with job or internship opportunities. Rognes said Kingland would like to grow the number of full-time staff in Ames.

“Once it’s complete, we think it’s going to be a great upgrade to the area and provide for retail use, and at the same time allow us to grow our business, which is important to us,” Rognes said.

Rognes didn’t know when the remaining retailers would be announced. He said as construction continues, he expects tenants to show more interest.