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Water Works Foundation raises $9M, prepares for initial park construction


Initial improvements at Water Works Park include a two-sided stage, restrooms and a natural-material playground. Rendering by RDG Planning & Design

The Des Moines Water Works Park Foundation has raised more than $9 million in pledges for the initial phase of the recasting of Water Works Park — a project that will include a two-sided stage, natural-material play areas, room for food trucks and outdoor classrooms.

The foundation is including an estimated $150,000 a year in maintenance money in its fundraising. Des Moines Water Works will manage the facilities, which are on Water Works ground, but no money from Water Works customers will be used for the project. 

According to the foundation’s December meeting minutes, another $3 million will be raised beyond the initial goal of $9 million to ensure all work is completed and maintenance money is available.

The agreement between the foundation and Des Moines Water Works to proceed with the project, with the foundation paying expenses, was approved by the foundation board Jan. 12 and is expected to be considered at the Water Works board meeting Tuesday. 

Much of the work is expected to be finished this year, said Sam Carrell, foundation executive director. A city project to build a lighted, artsy tunnel between Gray’s Lake and Water Works Park is expected to see construction in 2019. “We are working with the Des Moines Public Arts Foundation, the Des Moines Arts Center and others to have lots of lights and art and make this very dynamic,” said Sam Carrell, the foundation’s executive director. 

RDG Planning & Design has been working on the new vision for the main area off Fleur Drive — a piece of land across from Gray’s Lake that is roughly equal to the footprint of the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates site, the Civic Center of Greater Des Moines and Cowles Commons combined. And that’s just a touch of the overall park, which at 1,500 acres is bigger than New York’s Central Park.

The idea is to have an area available in the heart of the city for concerts, walking, running, biking, Frisbee, classes, events and general lollygagging.

RDG gave me a tour of the plans through a virtual reality headset. The modernistic stage, measuring 77 feet by 58 feet, will open to the north and south so bands could face either direction. An oval roof made of metal will stand 25 feet above the stage. 

On either side of the stage will be “forts” — small areas partially surrounded by stone walls that can be used for seating — that will serve as outdoor classrooms and also VIP concert seating. Plans call for a nearby play area that will feature natural materials — think log-like structures. 

Though I didn’t see a single gyro or taco through the high-tech goggles, the design specifically aids the arrival and parking of food trucks in the main area. 

The area also is going to have a restroom building, a water-bottle filling station, possibly a water fountain for dogs and a separate area with a canopy so people can gather in the shade, Carrell said. The area will be planted in hardy grasses that may do better if the area floods, foundation officials said. 

Rental bikes will be available, too. 

The $9 million project will be subject to public bids. 

Board President Kate Byus said plans have continued to grow as users weighed in on what they want. “This will be a hub of all the major bike trails,” and the 19-foot-wide tunnel to Gray’s Lake will be an important link, Byus said. There will be a second new path wrapping around the Water Works plant area to the north and connecting with a trail system in the rejuvenated area. 

The foundation has been working to balance decades of work on what has been seen as as an underused park, but also a spot that many want to keep relatively quiet and undeveloped. Large concerts would happen a couple of times a year on the grounds inside the park, but the stage to be built will feature smaller gatherings with the Des Moines Symphony and other groups performing. 

Details on rentals are still evolving, but the proceeds are likely to go toward maintenance expenses, Byus said. Water Works is expected to handle bookings.

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