Government

Ken DeKeyser aims for seamless development process in Cedar Rapids

Profile: Smoothing the way between public, private sectors

Ken DeKeyser, the new development services manager for the city of Cedar Rapids, stands in front of the UFG Insurance expansion site in downtown Cedar Rapids. DeKeyser’s job is to help developers navigate city permits and permissions — such as helping UFG find a way to add a temporary parking lot on its expansion site. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Ken DeKeyser, the new development services manager for the city of Cedar Rapids, stands in front of the UFG Insurance expansion site in downtown Cedar Rapids. DeKeyser’s job is to help developers navigate city permits and permissions — such as helping UFG find a way to add a temporary parking lot on its expansion site. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — It’s a busy time for development in Cedar Rapids — the new Skogman Building, Physicians’ Clinic of Iowa and the UFG Insurance expansion, to name a few — and in the middle is Ken DeKeyser, the city of Cedar Rapids’ newly hired development services manager.

DeKeyser, 50, of Urbana, was hired six months ago. He is the second person to hold the position since City Manager Jeff Pomeranz created it in 2012 as part of a push to create a one-stop shop for developers to make Cedar Rapids more development friendly.

“A lot of time is spent up front on things like cost issues and code requirements to sort those issues out as early as we can so there’s no surprises,” DeKeyser said.

“It’s a win-win for the private sector. He’s not a pushover. He plays by the rules, and he is very effective."

- Chad Pelley

Chairman, Developers Council and Development Manager, Ahmann Companies

It’s a fairly unusual role, serving as a liaison between developers and the code-centered city divisions — engineering, building services, utilities, traffic, planning — that must be navigated to get a project off the ground.

Former manager Joe Mailander left last year and now works as engineering director for Ament Design of Cedar Rapids.

While Pomeranz had success creating such a position in West Des Moines, and developers seem to like the role, it’s not all that common.

Chad Pelley, chairman of the Developers’ Council and development manager for Ahmann Companies of Cedar Rapids, said developers are typically on their own getting the permits, rezoning, plats, environmental approval and other permissions from different departments. In some case, he said, little motivation exists for staff to work with you.

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“It’s a win-win for the private sector,” Pelley said of the position. “He’s not a pushover. He plays by the rules, and he is very effective. He helps vet out things, let’s you know about rules and regulations coming up, and works with us if we have feedback. He gives us an opportunity to have skin in the game at a meaningful time when we can still have an impact.”

As one example, UFG Insurance has demolished two older buildings in the 200 block of Second Street SE as part of a five- to 10-year plan to build anew. In the meantime, UFG wants a surface parking lot with a driveway, which runs counter to the vision for downtown to have less parking.

DeKeyser helped mediate the issue so UFG got an easement for a beautification buffer to mask the parking lot. The lot includes permeable pavers to help with stormwater infiltration, and the driveway is oriented to be less intrusive.

“It was a pretty good compromise, we think,” he said. “It will serve their needs until they get the building up and running.”

DeKeyser is originally from the Chicago area and moved to Manchester at age 16. He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and later brought a technical mind, an appreciation for the outdoors and an enjoyment of working with the public to Iowa State University to earn a civil engineering degree on the G.I. Bill.

After four years in Kansas City focusing on rail and transportation work, he and his wife, Alison, moved back to Iowa to be closer to family while raising their children, Dominic and Zach.

In his downtime, DeKeyser plays bass for local bands, the Action Figures and Large Midgets, and was part of the Revival Theatre Co.’s recent presentation of “Ragtime.”

DeKeyser worked as an engineer in the Cedar Rapids public works department from 1998 to 2009 before taking a position with Hall & Hall Engineers.

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He said his experience in both the public and private sector has given him a good foundation to serve as an intermediary.

“Development services is a relatively young field, and this is a young department,” DeKeyser said. “I thought this is something new, and I could do things to help shape things to come, and maybe set an example for other communities.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3177; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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