Gross to retire from city after 31 years, 25 as Council Bluffs’ community development director
Don Gross, who has served as director of Council Bluffs’ Community Development Department for the past 25 years, has announced his retirement, effective Jan. 20.
Gross, who grew up on a farm near Bemidji, Minnesota, joined the city’s Community Development Department as a project planner working primarily with the Community Development Block Grant program in 1986. He was named community development director in 1991.
After graduating from the Blackduck (Minnesota) High School, he went on to earn a bachelor of science degree in geography from Bemidji State University in 1981 and a master’s degree in planning from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1983. He earned a second master’s degree – this time, in public administration – from the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 2005.
From 1983 until he came to Council Bluffs in 1986, Gross worked for a southwest Minnesota regional agency for a year and a half and for the city of Little Falls, Minnesota, for a year.
Looking back over his 31 years with the city, Gross said he recalls that when he first came to Council Bluffs, the city’s taxable valuation per capita was among the lowest in the state.
“Today, we’re in the upper tier, on a level with places like Cedar Rapids,” he said.
His early days with the city were also marked by what he termed “tremendous retail leakage,” a situation that has largely been turned around, noting that much of the eastern side of the Omaha metropolitan area as well as southwest Iowa is now served by Council Bluffs retail outlets because of Omaha’s growth to the west.
Growth in those early days was also hampered by a relatively low number of starts for housing units, numbers that rose dramatically before the recession of 2008, and are now steadily coming back.
“We need to be at 300 units per year, and I think we are on a path to achieve those numbers,” Gross said. “I’m also very pleased with what we’ve been able to do with downtown Council Bluffs. Too, I’m very pleased with what we’ve been able to accomplish down by Sunset Park.”
Though he headed the Community Development Department for a quarter of a century, Gross was quick to note that the city’s improving economic picture was not solely the result of his leadership but the result of partnerships.
“We’ve formed good partnerships with other city departments, with outside entities looking to locate here and with developers,” he said. “We’ve put together what I consider an outstanding team here, and our successes really are the fruits of a team effort.”
“Don really has been the architect of much of the economic development in Council Bluffs,” Mayor Matt Walsh said. “He’s worked closely with the chamber of commerce to spur economic development here and was instrumental in a lot of our major projects. He will be missed in City Hall, and his retirement will be a big loss to the city. He is an exceptionally bright guy.”
Walsh noted that Gross was a key player in the current development of the Playland Park area on the city’s far west side. Gross said he hopes to have the first phase of the Playland Park development done by the end of the year.
Walsh said on Thursday he’s hopeful that a replacement for Gross can be found locally.
“There’s a lot of good talent out there, and finding someone who is familiar with Council Bluffs and what we’re working to accomplish would ease the transition,” he said. “Don will be here through the end of the year and will be able to help bring his replacement up to speed.”
Gross said he plans to continue working in the metropolitan area but is not ready to divulge the specifics of his plans.