Beaverdale planners are willing to share
For the past 20 months, I’ve had the privilege of working with the members of the Beaverdale Business Coalition (BBC) and the Beaverdale Neighborhood Association (BNA). These organizations have commissioned RDG Planning & Design to assemble a revitalization strategy for the Beaverdale neighborhood. This type of plan can be a template for urban renewal projects throughout Iowa, and we’re proud to share what we’ve learned.
When the former Walgreens space on Beaver Avenue was vacated, business owners in the area formed the BBC and sprang into action to ensure a smooth transition to a tenant that would fulfill the needs of the neighbors. The BBC, now 143 members strong, soon realized that it had no hard data to base its decisions on. To solve that problem, the BNA and BBC hired Essman/Associates, which launched two separate surveys.
In March 2004, a neighborhood survey was undertaken, using phone surveys and personal interviews with Beaverdale residents. Then, in April 2004, Des Moines residents who live in other parts of the city were surveyed to gauge their perception of the area. In addition, dozens of public meetings were held in the neighborhood to glean additional insights.
Participants in both surveys were asked questions about the characteristics of the Beaverdale Village area. A high percentage indicated that the unique “Beaverdale brick” homes and the family-friendly pedestrian nature of the neighborhood were attractive features. A full 90 percent of all respondents citywide indicated that they visit the Beaverdale retail area at least once per year, and most Beaverdale residents said they frequent the area much more often.
One question specifically asked what type of retail establishments they would like to see occupy retail space in the area. The answers were a natural or health food store, an independent bookstore, restaurants and a bakery, a specialty clothing store and a hardware store. Survey respondents indicated that Beaverdale’s retail shops should reflect the neighborhood’s demographics. A significant number of respondents indicated that the lack of many chain stores in the area was an appealing feature. Residents indicated that attracting quality retail establishments to the area was of utmost importance. In addition to improving the business district, neighbors indicated a need to expand the housing base of the neighborhood.
In the neighborhood surveys and at many meetings, we sought input on the use of the former Rice Elementary School site. It is currently being used as a soccer field and open space for the neighborhood. RDG put together nine scenarios for people to choose from. A plan called “City Village” garnered the most votes; it includes 15 townhouses, 25 upper-level apartments, 25,000 square feet of retail space, an outdoor promenade and a central park with a bandstand.
In addition to the planned housing improvements and the business district revitalization plans, new landscaping, signs and street lamps are planned for the main thoroughfares in the heart of Beaverdale. The surveys indicated a desire for a unified look that runs through the neighborhood, yet keeps the character and uniqueness intact.
In June, Beaverdale Village was selected by the Iowa Department of Economic Development’s Main Street Iowa as a pilot Main Street Neighborhood commercial district. Main Street Iowa provides assistance and resources to downtown and retail areas within Iowa communities. This partnership will enable the Beaverdale neighborhood and business groups to take their revitalization plans to the next level.
People from all over Des Moines and even other parts of the state are already inquiring how the neighborhood groups collaborated to make things happen. This plan will be a model for other urban areas in the state to learn from, and the people in Beaverdale are already sharing their experiences.
Tom Boesen is a Beaverdale resident, president of the Beaverdale Business Coalition and co-owner of Boesen the Florist.