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No meeting of minds on Court Avenue


You would think all of the options for rebuilding the Court Avenue district would have been explored by now. You’d think the financing would have been sorted out. You would almost expect to see backhoes in action at the intersection of Court and Fourth Street.

But to hear the players talk, we’re still stuck at the beginning stage. The two sides – it definitely looks as if this is a two-sided struggle, not a cooperative effort – don’t seem to be speaking the same language.

Hubbell Realty Co. President and CEO Rick Tollakson and BH Equities LLC President Harry Bookey sat at a table at Hubbell headquarters last week professing wonderment about the city’s stance on their latest proposal.

We don’t know what the real objections are, they said. Our latest plan features classy, up-to-date “urban brownstone walk-up” townhomes, and the city says it just doesn’t quite sound right.

The developers replaced a condominium building with townhomes to address a million-dollar shortfall in their funding plan. Now they think the city wants a nicer project without putting in any more money. But come on, they say, our profit margin would be at the low end of projects like this.

Ask Des Moines City Councilwoman Chris Hensley, however, and you hear that the project has changed too drastically from what the city originally envisioned. Important questions about retail, parking and population density remain, she said, and noted that there’s a lot of interest in the area – implying that if these developers can’t come up with the right plan, somebody else will.

Wait a minute, say the developers; the city made the biggest change when they removed the block between Fourth Street and Fifth Avenue from our drawing table, hoping for someone else to build a hotel there. And now another potential hotel developer is taking a look at that site.

The next round in this endless boxing match is scheduled for the July 18 City Council meeting. “We’ll ask the council to give some direction as to where to go from here,” said acting City Manager Rick Clark. “The city has to decide if this the right vision or whether we can do something more akin to what we originally wanted.”

It should be getting easier, not harder. The neighborhood is becoming more lively even without this project.

If developers and political leaders can’t find a way to cooperate and get something done now, when will they?

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