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6 ideas to make Des Moines’ downtown area more vibrant, economically viable


The renderings, beginning at the top left, show a re-envisioned Ninth Street heading south into downtown; addition of green spaces around downtown’s core; reimagined skywalks that include public art; and reinvestment in neighborhoods that surround downtown. Architectural rendering by RDG Planning & Design


Reimaging Des Moines’ downtown skywalk system, creating corridors between downtown and surrounding neighborhoods, and building stronger neighborhoods are among the initiatives proposed to be included in a new vision and action plan for the city’s central business district.

The initiatives were discussed during a recent breakout session during the Iowa Commercial Real Estate Association’s annual Expo.

Downtown DSM: Future Forward is a 10-year vision and action plan being spearheaded by a Greater Des Moines Partnership steering committee. The plan has been described as a community-driven effort to help position the region for short-term economic recovery following the pandemic and long-term economic vitality.

A total of six future initiatives have been identified, Carrie Kruse, the partnership’s vice president of downtown development, said during the breakout session. The remaining three are green ring, inner circle and stadium district.

The following is a summary of the six initiatives:

Connected corridors: An effort to better connect downtown with surrounding neighborhoods. One idea that has been discussed is reducing the number of vehicle lanes on the Ninth Street Bridge over Interstate Highway 235 and creating bicycle lanes and wide pedestrian paths between the neighborhoods and East Village. An architectural rendering shows gardens on one side of the bridge, which doesn’t have on or off ramps to I-235.

“There definitely is the opportunity … to make this a more attractive way to navigate to and from downtown and into our neighborhoods,” Kruse said.

Green ring: An effort to make more obvious connections between downtown amenities such as the Pappajohn Sculpture Garden and the future pro soccer stadium and Gray’s Lake. The green ring would surround the downtown, bringing green space to the area.

“We want to create a more interesting and attractive experience for people moving from one place to another,” Kruse said.

Reimagining the skywalks: Des Moines’ downtown skywalks, which are nearly 50 years old, are “tired, dark and dull,” Kruse said. Heated discussions have occurred over whether to tear down the 4-mile system or reinvest in it, she said. “It was decided that this is too much of an invested amenity to back away from or abandon.”

Instead, the vision calls for making the skywalks more attractive with different types of artistic features, lighting and bright paints. “We want to make [the skywalks] more of a destination, an amenity for the community more than just a way to get from A to B in the wintertime.”

Stronger neighborhoods:
 Commercial nodes that are ripe for reinvestment exist in neighborhoods surrounding downtown, Kruse said. However, some of the buildings are in need of face-lifts and updates to electrical, plumbing and other systems. Reinvesting in the areas will likely spark reinvestment in surrounding residential areas, she said.

Stadium district: Rebrand the area south of Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway between Principal Park and the Pro Iowa Soccer stadium as the stadium district.

Inner circle: Creation of a mixed-use circle near the downtown core by re-creating Keosauqua Way into a more walkable area and making traveling by vehicle easier.

Kruse emphasized that the initiatives are conceptual.

“The goals of the Vision Plan are for these conceptual projects to be prioritized and budged for over the course of the next decade,” she wrote in an email.

The group hopes to complete the plan’s vision process by year’s end, Kruse said. The final version would need approval from the steering committee and the city of Des Moines, she said.

Related article: Learn more about the history of the skywalk system by reading the Elbert Files: Skywalk stories.

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