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BREAKING: Details unveiled for $600 million development in West Des Moines

The Grand Experience to include one of Midwest's largest indoor water parks plus hotel, conference center and up to 1,200 residences


The centerpiece of the proposed Grand Experience development is a 220,000-square-foot facility with an indoor water park, family entertainment center, hotel and business conference center. The facility is planned north of the MidAmerican Engery Company RecPlex at 6500 Grand Ave. in West Des Moines. Rendering by Architectural Design Consultants Inc.

A $600 million development that would include one of the Midwest’s largest indoor water parks is planned on undeveloped land surrounding West Des Moines’ recently completed athletic and recreation center, the proposed project’s backers announced today.

The development, called the Grand Experience, is proposed on 226 acres along Grand Avenue between 60th and 88th streets west of Interstate Highway 35. The development, planned on ground north, east and west of the MidAmerican Energy Company RecPlex at 6500 Grand Ave., would also include a hotel, a conference center, a parking facility for up to 1,000 vehicles, restaurants and other commercial developments, and office space as well as up to 1,200 residences.

“I’d like to compare it to something else I’ve seen in the Des Moines area, but really, I haven’t seen anything similar to this,” said Jim Bergman, managing member of WDM Entertainment LLC, the entity behind Grand Experience.

The Grand Experience’s centerpiece is a 220,000-square-foot facility that is planned on about 110 acres on the north side of Grand Avenue, across from the RecPlex. The facility would include:

• A 100,000-square-foot indoor water park being designed by Wisconsin-based Architectural Design Consultants Inc., a firm known for its water park projects. The facility would be more than twice the size of the Great Wolf Lodge indoor water park that’s in Kansas City, Mo., project backers said.

“This would be the largest in the Midwest outside of those found in the [Wisconsin] Dells,” Bergman said.

• A 40,000-square-foot family entertainment center, similar to Dave & Buster’s or Spare Time, backers said.

• A 400-room hotel that would be the largest in West Des Moines, a city official said.

• A conference center that would accommodate up to 1,400 guests. Architectural Design Consultants has incorporated conference centers in resorts they have designed.

A 60-acre parcel east of the RecPlex would include restaurants, one or more brew pubs and support commercial. A residential development to the west of the RecPlex would include a range of housing, from workforce and student to luxury, Bergman said.

“I think what the last few years has taught us is that people are willing to pay for experiences,” said Riley Hogan, senior vice president at CBRE Group Inc. and the project’s listing broker. “I’m not aware of an experience like this anywhere in [Iowa]. There are components of this in different locations in Iowa and the Midwest but not along one corridor. …

“This is a perfect corridor for this experience to happen and to draw people from Omaha, Minnesota, South Dakota and so on. Now, with this development, West Des Moines [will] become the top destination for kids’ sports teams.”

Among the groups involved in the project is the Goldstein family from Bettendorf. The family has roots in the entertainment business, including as prior owners of the Isle of Capri, a hotel and casino development in the Quad Cities.

“Our ownership history with the Isle of Capri and other conference venues gives us a unique ability to discern what does and doesn’t work in the entertainment, hotel, and convention business,” Jeff Goldstein said in a prepared statement.

Also involved is S&L Hospitality, a privately held hotel development and management company headquartered in Verona, Wis. Among the group’s projects is the Grand Harbor Resort in Dubuque and Three Bears Resort in Warrens, Wis. Eric Lund, founder of S&L Hospitality, was a co-founder of Great Wolf Resorts, described as the world’s largest developer of indoor water park resorts.

Bergman, who has been involved with several multifamily projects in Iowa, began mulling a hotel and conference center development in 2016. He said he originally planned on developing the project in the Quad Cities, but after months of due diligence, decided to look elsewhere.

Bergman said that as he and his team studied the Des Moines-area market, they began homing in on the area surrounding the 300,000-square-foot RecPlex, which opened in phases in 2021.

In its first year of operation, the facility has attracted an estimated 650,000 visitors including youth and adult athletes who participate in hockey, basketball, volleyball, soccer, baseball, softball and other sports. Use of the facility is expected grow, said Clyde Evans, West Des Moines’ director of community and economic development.

“I don’t think we initially went into developing the RecPlex thinking it would spur a development like this,” Evans said. “But once we saw all of the activity going on along Grand, we starting thinking there was potential for the corridor to be a destination. … If you take a look at what the experience of having Jordan Creek [Town Center] here has taught us, it’s that people are willing to drive considerable distances to be entertained or to have something new and different to do.”

Since opening in August 2004, the Jordan Creek mall has attracted millions of visitors annually and sparked billions in surrounding development including hotels, retail stores, restaurants and office development. In June, Topgolf announced plans to open its first Iowa location on the northwest corner of South Jordan Creek Parkway and Mills Civic Parkway.

The mall and the proposed Topgolf site are less than 3 miles north of the proposed Grand Experience development.

The Grand Avenue development will generate even more visitors and vehicle traffic to Jordan Creek and surrounding retail, restaurant and hotel businesses, Bergman said. “This is definitely going to raise all boats.”

The water park, hotel and entertainment and conference centers are expected to attract 2 million visitors annually, Hogan said.

The current economic climate, including rising interest rates and inflation, isn’t a deterrent to launching the project, Bergman said.

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years and I’ve seen that roller coaster go up and down many times,” Bergman said. “I think there’s going to be a recession, but it’s going to be shallow and it’s going to be quick.”

If the economy is slow to rebound, the need for workforce housing will be even more critical, he said.

Bergman said much of the financing and development team is in place. The group is currently working with city officials on an incentive package, he said.

It will take about 30 months for construction to be completed once work begins.

“There’s a lot of pent-up demand to go do cool things,” Bergman said. “I think this is going to be the definition of cool.”

IMAGE ABOVE: Several rooms in a proposed hotel will overlook the indoor water park at the Grand Experience, a 226-acre development proposed along Grand Avenue in West Des Moines. Rendering by Architectural Design Consultants Inc.


The map shows the layout of the Grand Experience, a 226-acre development proposed along Grand Avenue in West Des Moines. The East Parcel is expected to include restaurants, brew pubs and other commercial components; the West Parcel, up to 1,200 residential units; and the North Parcel, a 220,000-square-foot facility with indoor water park, family entertainment center, hotel and business conference center. Map special to the Business Record

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