Developers’ Dream: Free Land & Incentives in Osceola

New initiative offers shovel-ready sites for residential projects.

A new innovative program to encourage economic development is taking root in Osceola, the county seat of Clarke County south of Des Moines. Working with the Clarke County Development Corporation (CCDC), home builders are able to get shovel-ready sites at no cost for residential projects, along with reimbursements on interest for construction loans for a one-year period.

Bill Trickey, executive director of the CCDC, says, “We offer the lot to the builder at no cost to the builder. Then we will cover the builder’s interest cost on a construction loan for 12 months, beginning with the start of the project.”

He finds the idea exciting. “We have studied the idea for two years. We really don’t know of anyone else doing this, but, of course, there could be someone.”

With the Des Moines metro market extending west to Waukee and beyond, north to Ankeny, and east to Altoona, Osceola felt it was time to promote development to the south. “We hope to convince builders that there’s a strong demand in rural towns. Plus, we know it’s hard for builders to take that risk. This way, we can help the builders and help our community as well,” Trickey says.

It’s extra important, he explains, because market prices on houses has leveled off over the last several months, but the building costs of materials and equipment have not. In fact many of those items have increased.

He further explains the program this way: Tax abatements are available for buyers in many areas. The Osceola model, called Zero-Cost Development, turns that type of abatement back to the builders.

The executive director says recent growth trends in south central Iowa have helped spur interest in the program. “We’re only about 30 minutes from the south part of the Des Moines metro, and many people like small-town living. Osceola offers more than 4,400 non-farm employment opportunities, which means it’s a hub or destination for those in other southern Iowa counties.”

Plus, he points out, there are excellent schools and several new recreational draws, such as a growing trail system, local parks, and a future community recreation center.
“We feel this program is vital, because we know that spec homes might sit vacant a little longer than in a larger metropolitan area, so, therefore, the risk for building is higher,” Trickey explains. “But we also know that in the Des Moines area, lots can cost from $100,000 to $200,000. Here, they are more likely to be $30,000 to $50,000.” He says there are 100-plus lots available in the program.

Realtors in the area are excited, too, Trickey points out. “For example, a new teacher to our district might not be able to find a home in Osceola, so they settle in Indianola or another spot in the area and commute to Osceola. A program like this might entice them to settle in our community. It’s a win-win for both sides.”

The program is starting out with spec homes, because that’s where the building risk is the greatest. It also can include townhomes and apartments. Trickey says the CCDC will work with any builder to make the program work.

He himself has an interesting background. For four years, he was the chief operating officer of the Des Moines Buccaneers, ice hockey team, and has been in this position for 11 years. It sounds odd perhaps, he says, but meeting the payroll and working with marketing was great business experience for what he’s doing now.

“We’re highly motivated to make this program work and be successful.”

Want to Learn More?

Builders wanting to know more about the Zero-Cost Development initiative should contact Bill Trickey at the Clarke County Development Corporation.