Vacant lots in Ames: What was and will be on Lincoln Way


Daniel Jacobi II

A dandelion pokes through the dirt in the empty lot of 2516 Lincoln Way, Ames, IA, on Wednesday, April 26, 2023.

At 7 a.m. Sunday mornings, The Grove Cafe opens its doors to guests. Upon walking in, anyone would notice the nine men sitting around engaged in lively conversation, talking about the latest things happening in Ames. Many witnessed the town grow into what it is today, including the properties that have been built, torn down and rebuilt again.

Ames currently has two vacant lots located along Lincoln Way with extensive histories and future projects underway.

2516 Lincoln Way

Neal Staggs, an Ames resident and one of The Grove Cafe’s Sunday mornings regulars, has several childhood memories of the vacant plot of land currently labeled as 2516 Lincoln Way.

“I used to ride my bike down there when I was 10,” Staggs said. “I was getting into trouble all the time running around down there.”

Staggs recalled a little building on one of Lincoln Way’s corners that housed a pipe shop and a five-and-ten that used to be where Mayhem Collectibles is. Staggs said the plot of land that currently sits empty used to contain a cafe squeezed between two movie theaters.

415 Lincoln Way, Ames, IA, sits empty with nothing but dirt, gravel, weeds, garbage, a few parking spots, and old construction signs on Thursday, April 27, 2023. (Daniel Jacobi II)

The two theaters in question were called the Varsity and Studio III. The Varsity closed in 2009, while the adult theater, Studio III closed in 1977.

Later in the land’s history, Scott Randall, the founder of Randall Corp., bought the land and tore down the old buildings to put in a new high-rise apartment, according to Staggs’ friends. However, the city would not allow him to add fire access and sewer access to the building because that would build into the narrow street in the back of the plot.

“So [Randall] got mad at the city, and I was told that he sold,” Staggs said. “The maintenance guys came in and told me.”

Today, the lot sits as an empty spot of grass and gravel between Mr. Burrito and All Cuts Barber Shop. Randall sold the vacant property in February 2020 for $1 million.

A site plan had previously been approved for the land to become a restaurant with apartments above it, but city planners chose not to move forward with the project, according to Julie Kruse, a former city planner for Ames who worked with the project. However, new plans are being discussed.

“We have been talking and revealing plans with Brothers,” Kruse said. “They have bars and restaurants in other college towns in the Midwest; they are based out of Wisconsin.”

Kruse said the project is currently on hold due to costs. In the meantime, students around campus are optimistically waiting for the new developments.

“I heard there might be a Brother’s coming, but I don’t know if that is true or not,” said Sam Hardesty, a sophomore in industrial technology.

Ryan Friedericks, a friend of Hardesty’s, added that he would like to see more bars in the area.

415 Lincoln Way

Another large project in Ames will be built in the lot located at 415 Lincoln Way where the Mandarin Chinese Restaurant used to be. The entire block will be part of a 20-year reinvestment program that is financed through the state of Iowa.

A torn “Road Work Ahead” construction sign lies dormant in the empty lot of 415 Lincoln Way, Ames, IA, on Thursday, April 27, 2023. (Daniel Jacobi II)

The programs administered by the state are granting Ames money to invest in the redevelopment project, which taxes from the project will pay back over time.

Kruse said the reinvestment district is a large area of downtown Ames that encompasses many properties that may or may not be redeveloped, but the vacant lot itself will be called The Linc.

“Nothing is finalized yet; right now there have been talks in the negotiation agreement about a hotel, conference center, office building, plaza, some apartments and retail,” Kruse said.

Kruse said the city has been working with a developer for a couple of years and does not have a set date for the plans to be finalized or implemented.