AABP Award 728x90

Ingersoll in bloom


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On June 15, people gathered at Palmer’s Deli to celebrate the completion of the first phase in an effort to beautify the Ingersoll Avenue corridor. The new sidewalks, planters, benches and other improvements worth millions of dollars only span three blocks, but already the project has generated renewed interest in the district. The three-story Adio Building is under construction at 2925 Ingersoll, the Badower’s/Reichardt’s store has undergone a renovation and businesses are migrating to the street.

“I think there’s a unique energy right now, and I want to be a part of it,” said Tony Lemmo, co-owner of Frank’s Pizza, which is expected to move near the Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway and Ingersoll intersection from the Drake University neighborhood by this fall.

But progress may be slow as many storefronts remain for lease and business owners interested in getting something going struggle to meet the city’s parking requirements. The former Ingersoll Dinner Theater has sat empty for several years, no one has signed a lease for the recently completed Ingersoll Square retail bays and several former car dealerships sit ready for conversion.

The next streetscape improvement project is at least another year away, and Ingersoll must compete with other neighborhood districts, including Beaverdale and Drake, that also want beautification projects.

“It’s going to take a good number of years to get this done,” said Des Moines city planner Jason Van Essen.

First step

The first phase of the streetscape improvements was implemented between 28th and 31st streets in an area where many people already congregate, said Kimberly Hansen, co-chair along with Soozie McBroom of Restoration Ingersoll, the organization behind the project. Seeing the first section completed is a chance for “everyone to see what the design looks like” and hopefully generate interest for future plans, which call for adding similar design elements along Ingersoll between 15th and 42nd streets.

The first phase cost more than $3 million, double the original estimate, but included sewer enhancements that were not originally part of the plan. The city put in about $2.3 million and the rest came from private donations and grants, including money from Vision Iowa and the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines.

With rain delays and sewer work, “it has been a long project,” Hansen said. “I think Soozie and I both are hoping it picks up pace as we move forward.”

Restoration Ingersoll and the city are just starting to discuss initial designs for the next extension, which will run between 31st and 35th streets, with fund raising likely to begin next year.

Hansen hopes future projects will encompass longer stretches of road, but it will require larger amounts of funding, said Van Essen. The Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization has committed $150,000 to the second phase of the project in 2011, which “is usually the first piece of funding you go after,” he said.

With other neighborhoods also wanting similar improvements, which projects get done first “kind of depends on how active the business and neighborhood associations are in partnering and doing their part in fund raising,” he said.

Meeting city goals

The improvements fit in with one of the city’s 12 goals adopted by the city council in 2006: to expand and enhance neighborhood commercial and retail businesses. The benefits of projects like Ingersoll are an increase in traffic and a rise in property values, Hansen said. And already it has inspired private investment.

Jeff Stickel, owner and practitioner at Stickel Chiropractic Clinic P.C., is constructing the Adio Building, which will house his practice, Café Su restaurant and a residential or commercial tenant on the third floor. Stickel estimates that the project will cost more than $2 million, which includes the building, parking lot and demolition of two houses formerly on the site.

Midwest Clothiers recently completed renovations to its Badower’s/Reichardt’s store, including a new back entrance, carpeting and paint. Tim Sitzman, co-owner of Midwest Clothiers, said the store also will begin featuring some of the lines the company used to carry at Sarto at West Glen Town Center, which has now closed.

“A lot more people are living in the area; there’s a movement toward a younger attitude in that area,” Sitzman said. “We really feel very, very comfortable with Ingersoll.”

Other property owners are incorporating some of the streetscape elements into their projects, Van Essen said, such as at the former Stivers auto dealership at 1717 Ingersoll, the newly constructed Dahl’s Foods store and Mediacom Communications Corp.’s parking lot built west of its building.

Despite this new excitement, several buildings remain vacant.

Albright Lighting & Interiors recently left 3029 Ingersoll after The Lamplighter purchased the business.

Aaron Hyde of Ferguson Commercial Real Estate, which is trying to lease four properties with commercial space along Ingersoll, said he is working on a deal for the former Bill Jensen’s Crescent Chevrolet building at 1825 Ingersoll, and there has been some interest in Ingersoll Square next door. But, he said, “Things are taking a while to put together. Everyone is scrutinizing the deals, making sure they’ll work.”

George Qualley IV and his brother Cornelius are trying to open Lime Lounge at 2708 Ingersoll as an extension of their Thunder & Lightning disc jockey business. The two envision a modern upscale bar that would feature electronic music as well as live jazz and other music, bringing a new concept to a corridor mostly dominated by neighborhood bars. The brothers have rented about 1,000 square feet near where George’s wife, Betsey, runs Smitten Kitten but are still trying to solve a city requirement that they provide 30 parking spaces, which George said is “ridiculous given the size of the venue we’re looking for.”

They were scheduled to go before the Des Moines Zoning Board of Adjustment for a conditional use permit in June, but two hours before the meeting, George said he was notified by the city staff that they had recommended to the board to delay the hearing until July 22. The delay set the Qualleys back at least another month, while they also work on getting their liquor license and other permits.

George, who also is an attorney with Qualley & Bleyhl PLC, and Betsey Qualley have become used to these hurdles after they decided to renovate a condemned home in the Drake area. They had to get eight permits and go through several inspections before they could move in. Still, George said, “We’re not in this (lounge business) to go into debt and jeopardize our other business. That means we’re not going to finance this for six months or a year without being able to open or have an end game.”

Andrew Lee, whose family owns the building where the Qualleys want to open Lime Lounge, has had similar problems with the building that formerly housed the Ingersoll Dinner Theater. A group wants to put in a Cuban restaurant, but the city is requiring it have more than 20 parking spaces. He plans to convert a former gas station just to the east into a parking lot and is working with other property owners to secure parking. It is the last thing holding up the project right now, Lee said.

Parking has been an issue along Ingersoll, Van Essen said. The 2004 Ingersoll Improvement Plan identified some areas where property and business owners could work together to share parking and he has heard of some efforts to implement this idea, but nothing definite yet.

“Parking shortages are always a sign of a successful urban area,” he said.

Still, Matt Meline, vice president of wealth management for Morgan Stanley Smith Barney and a member of the Ingersoll Business Association board, sees excitement among the businesses already on Ingersoll. The Des Moines West Side Chamber of Commerce, which also encompasses the Drake and Roosevelt commercial districts, has about 80 members in its first year and anywhere from 40 to 70 people attending events.

With beautification of an area that has been mostly stagnant for 30 to 40 years, Meline believes Ingersoll will become more of a destination shopping area.

“The whole thing is just really exciting,” he said. “All the energy taking place; everyone is getting more involved. That’s what it takes.”

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