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Developers eye first piece of Riverpoint West


Five years ago, developer Bill Knapp called the Riverpoint West area “a diamond in the rough.” Now, the Downtown Community Alliance and a trio of developers are asking the city to help them move forward to begin polishing the gem.

Officials are working at both the federal and local levels to clear the way for redevelopment of the wedge of blighted, mostly undeveloped industrial land between downtown Des Moines and the Raccoon River. The $220 million plan calls for construction of high-density townhouse developments and office-retail buildings on the land bordered by Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway, Southwest Ninth Street and the Raccoon River. There are also plans to build a bike and pedestrian bridge across the river to connect the development with the Principal Riverwalk trail and Gray’s Lake Park.

On Monday the Downtown Community Alliance plans to formally ask the City Council to begin drafting a development agreement with a consortium of three developers for the seven-year plan, which calls for approximately 750 townhomes and condominium units along with about 450,000 square feet of commercial space.

“This is a very early stage,” said DCA President Chris Greenfield, “but if we don’t get the City Council’s buy-in now, these (developers) don’t want to own land that the city doesn’t have any interest in developing.”

Earlier this year the DCA formed a subsidiary, Riverpoint West LLC, which has secured an option to buy 80 acres of land from Norfolk Southern Railway Co. The DCA solicited developers to submit conceptual plans for the project, which resulted in three developers, the Ryan Companies USA Inc., Rottlund Homes and Sherman Associates, forming a consortium to jointly develop the acreage.

“It fits the model that Ryan likes,” said Doug Dieck, vice president of development at Ryan’s Clive office. “It’s a brownfield; it has land acquisition and environmental issues, and we excel at those things.” The Minneapolis-based company has done numerous similar projects in Chicago, Minneapolis and Phoenix. In Iowa, it completed the GreatAmerica Building in Cedar Rapids as an anchor to a brownfield redevelopment project along the Cedar River.

Sherman Associates has been a player in other downtown housing projects, including the Waterstreet Brownstones and the Vine Street Lofts. Rottlund Homes, the nation’s 47th-largest home builder, has developed more than $250 million in housing in Greater Des Moines since 1994.

The potential Riverpoint West development would be “a good housing play,” Dieck said, “and we see an opportunity to support some of the larger corporations with back-office and retail needs. And it has wonderful infrastructure with the Martin Luther King Parkway.”

The initial 80-acre site was chosen because it’s the largest parcel and would be key to initiating further development in the area, Greenfield said.

“We’re just trying to light a match to get it done,” he said. The DCA has spoken with a dozen nearby land owners about possible development as well but is not actively trying to buy other parcels at this point, he said.

The city has been studying the site for environmental remediation, said Richard Clark, assistant city manager, and has about $1.4 million in federal money set aside for that purpose.

“At the same time, we’re working to see if more dollars can be set aside for the project,” Clark said. “We’ve done a lot of examination, and we think we have a good handle on what’s there. From everything we can see, we think it’s going to be a manageable situation.”

The project will be a legislative priority for the Greater Des Moines Partnership for the next five years, Greenfield said. During the Partnership’s annual lobbying trip to Washington, D.C. from June 9-11, Downtown Community Alliance and city officials met with members of Iowa’s congressional delegation to request an initial $2 million of environmental remediation funding. Greenfield said the DCA plans to ask for a total of $11 million in federal assistance for the project over the next five years.

From the city’s perspective, Monday’s council action is an opportunity for the council to say whether it wants to move forward with the project, Clark said.

“The DCA has done a terrific job in identifying a very strong development team,” he said. “They are strong players that have performed well. I’m personally very pleased about that.

“Second, we’re just about ready to complete construction of the MLK Parkway,” Clark said. “It’s one of those public improvements that really opens up this are to development. It’s really an opportunity to take advantage of a major investment that’s been made.”

With the gradual drop-off of industrial activity in that area, it’s a good indication that it may be time to change land uses there, he said.

“It’s certainly one of the few remaining large development areas near downtown that can be used for new projects like this.”


As a mixed-used development project, Riverpoint West will include retail and office space as well as townhomes and condominiums.

“It’s a methodology that we’ve been working on for some time,” said Doug Dieck, vice president of development for Ryan Companies USA Inc. in Clive. “What we’ll do is put the retail up on MLK Parkway and use the office space to buffer the residential area from the retail.”

If a development agreement can be reached with the city by this fall, the seven-year program would begin next year with land acquisition and demolition of some existing buildings, with construction beginning in the fall of 2005. What would be built in the first phase hasn’t been determined yet, but would probably include retail, office and residential elements, Dieck said.

“With mixed use, it makes sense to have some of each component started at the same time,” he said. “The market will tell us what makes sense.”

This project won’t be the first time that Ryan, Rottlund Homes and Sherman Associates have worked together as a development team, Dieck said.

“We look forward to using those relationships and skills sets to make this project a success,” he said. “This is a great opportunity for Ryan, Sherman and Rottlund and the city of Des Moines, and it looks good, but there are very many miles to go before it’s a done deal.”

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