A Closer Look: Dennis Reynolds
Friday, June 20, 2014 6:00 AM
Dennis Reynolds’ design skills have taken him to Dubai and China, Columbus, Ohio, and Clive. These days, he runs a one-man shop from an office cottage at the rear of his home in Des Moines’ South of Grand neighborhood. Reynolds arrived in Des Moines in 1997 to do preliminary planning for the Iowa Events Center and he moved here in 2006 to work for the former Ladco Development. More recently, Reynolds put together the concept for the city of Clive’s town center development, for which he received the top honor for planning and analysis from the Central States region of the American Society of Landscape Architects. He also won a top honor this year in the design-built category for his work on the Shimmer and Lakeside Terrace at the Village of Ponderosa in West Des Moines, a project he did for Ladco. His other projects include the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati and the Nanjing Olympic Park in China. During his career, Reynolds has worked for firms with a global and local presence. Reynolds and his wife, Charlotte, might be the ultimate rehabbers. During 32 years of marriage, they have built or renovated 13 homes.
Hometown: Could be Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City, Mo., or wherever Ford Motor Co. transferred his father following promotions.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in economics and fine arts from Wheaton College; master’s degree with emphasis on urban design and development from Kansas State University.
Family: Wife, Charlotte; two adult children.
You’ve worked on a lot of projects that involve arriving at a common vision from diverse perspectives. What’s your secret?
A lot of what I enjoy is trying to find that shared win-win. People have told me I have good listening skills. From Strength Finders, I learned that two of my top strengths are that I try to understand and respect and value what is unique about everyone and I try to find connections between diverse perspectives.
Those skills came into play on the Clive project.
We had a steering committee of 12 people, and they all had different perspectives. We were trying to understand what it was we could come up with that met all of their needs. As we were wrapping up that phase of the process, several came up to me and said it was fun to come up with something that evolved.
Did anything take you by surprise during that process?
Nothing caught me off guard. It’s all new; it’s all exploration and discovery. You’re going to find what is new. What was fun that seems obvious now is this unique opportunity to take a suburban site and introduce an urban environment to it and have it near a greenbelt.
Where did the Village of Ponderosa go wrong?
It was incredibly bad timing. Land prices were zooming up, so they (Ladco) made a very aggressive offer on the land. Sales were predicted by encouraging lots of people to move quickly, so they made an expensive investment in infrastructure. Ladco had some serious dollars in public street improvements and utilities. It was aggressive, but it was responding to what the marketplace was saying. At the time, we looked at the design to see if there was something different we could have done. But it wasn’t a design issue. It was an economics issue, and a lot of things just went upside down.
Some real estate people think the outdoors town center concept is difficult to put into practice in the Midwest.
There shouldn’t be anything fundamentally wrong there. The best benchmark kind of community that I thought made sense for Iowa was the county seat. A lot of people grew up when the county seat was the place to go. I had aunts and uncles who would walk to the store. That was a great model, but since farming depopulated, that model has had a hard time working. To bring that quality of life in a suburban model can be very valuable.
Is this a difficult area to break away from notions of what can and can’t work?
The perception isu what drives so much of what we think and do to make decisions. Until we break that perception and build an example, it is hard to get people off that perception. What I love about my job is trying to bring that new insight into something. I still work in places other than Des Moines, and Des Moines is no different. In all of my career, my ability to do the quick drawings was one way I was able to break through that. The other thing I stressed was to have people understand that with those benchmark projects there is something similar out there that you can point to. I can say I’ve been to that city and here is what we need to do similar and here is what we need to do different.
Did you go to college with the idea of getting into design?
I went to Wheaton College, and I thought I was going to be a Methodist minister. I got a D in Old Testament and a few other things. I said, “Whoops, that might not be my calling.” But my passion is to help people and ... to be a good steward of the environment.
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