Bart Connelly serves as the president of Connelly Development, a successful real estate development company, but the seeds of entrepreneurship were planted when he was just a teenager in a small northwest Iowa town.
At 15, Connelly opened his own construction company. He and his high school friends would complete roofing, siding, painting and storm repair construction jobs. Connelly would get the job leads from his father, who was an insurance adjuster.
Connelly’s mother also set a business-minded example for her son. She was elected as the town’s first female council member, served on the board of the local country club, led the town’s investment group and started a local chain of drive-in restaurants that she turned into rental properties.
“My mom was very much an entrepreneur,” Connelly says.
With the help of construction skills learned from his father and the entrepreneurial spirt of his mother, Connelly ran his construction business all through high school and college.
Growing an Iowa business
Connelly studied at Iowa State University and then moved to Dallas to work in banking. After marrying his college sweetheart Pam, Connelly decided to return to his passion and launch a construction company. He spent 13 years building custom homes in the Dallas market, and then another opportunity came calling.
The Dakota Dunes development in South Dakota was expanding and recruiting homebuilders. In 1996, the Connellys decided to move home to Iowa with their three young children and start a new construction company in Sioux City. Launched as Connelly, Tiehen and Sons — and now named Connelly Development Inc. — the company initially did a few million dollars in annual revenue.
The operation grew, adding light commercial and medical projects and eventually historical building restorations to its residential construction work. Connelly Development led the restoration and development of numerous century-old warehouses in downtown Sioux City, projects that mixed commercial space with residential condominiums.
“We did that multiple times in downtown Sioux City,” Connelly says. “Then we started doing land development, and then retail centers.”
The company now oversees about $20 million a year in design, construction and management projects. The Connelly team of nearly 50 employees includes in-house design, construction, property management and development groups.
“We’ll buy land, we’ll come up with a concept, we will design and build the buildings, and then eventually if we stay in an ownership position, we’ll manage the buildings,” Connelly says. “We pride ourselves on being very nimble.”
A passion project
For many years, one project that Connelly wanted to get off the ground was developing a sports complex in Sioux City. As a longtime basketball coach and father to athletes who all went on to play college sports, Connelly spent decades traveling the country for sporting events. He recalls traveling to Sioux Falls, Minneapolis, Kansas City and Des Moines for tournaments.
“Sioux City never had an indoor athletic facility like the ones my children played in,” he says. “Developing a local sports facility has been on my bucket list for 10 or 15 years.”
Two years ago, his vision started to take shape. The vacant corporate campus of Gateway Computers, which had moved from Sioux City to California, was purchased by an out-of-state investor. Connelly Development was able to purchase a 225,000-square-foot building on the campus from the investor. The sports facility then began in earnest.
The center section of the building was removed to create a 35-foot height clearance, and the facility became United Sports Academy.
The multiuse facility opened in spring 2019 and has already played host to thousands of people for volleyball, basketball and Taekwondo tournaments as well as corporate meetings and other events. Primarily used by youth leagues and high school aged sports programs, the complex includes four college basketball courts, eight youth basketball courts, four college volleyball courts, eight youth volleyball courts, four pickleball courts, a health club and a performance training center.
Connelly Development has had a longtime relationship with Northwest Bank. For the United Sports Academy project, the bank provided a commercial real estate construction loan to remodel the facility and is also one of four major sponsors, donating money to sponsor one of the main courts.
“Not only did Northwest Bank loan us money for the first phase; they’re giving back to us through sponsorship,” Connelly says.
The partnership with Northwest Bank has been a productive one over the years for Connelly Development.
“We’re a very complex company, and we continue to work with Northwest Bank because they understand our operation very well,” Connelly says. “We’re just very like-minded.”
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