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West Des Moines acquires land for arboretum

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An arboretum that is proposed in West Des Moines will help reinforce the history of one of the area’s earliest settlers and provide residents and others a quiet place to visit, City Manager Tom Hadden said.

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The red outline of the map above shows the property purchased by the city of West Des Moines for the arboretum. Image courtesy Polk County assessor

The city of West Des Moines has purchased nearly 20 acres at 2296 Grand Ave., paying I2 Tech LLC just over $2 million for the property, Polk County real estate records show. The property previously had been a church camp operated by the Church of the Nazarene.

Two local business leaders – Dan Houston, Principal Financial Group’s CEO, and Don Schoen, an entrepreneur who founded BettrLife and co-founded MediNotes – are leading the fundraising effort for what will be called the West Des Moines Arboretum, Hadden said.

In recent years, several unsuccessful attempts have been made to redevelop the land, Hadden said. “It’s 20 acres of natural area with a creek running through it. It will be an asset to the community.”

The tract was once owned by James Jordan, who was a Virginia cattle farmer before relocating to Iowa in the mid-1800s, according to the West Des Moines Historical Society. Jordan, an abolitionist, built a two-story house on the property. The house became a designated stop for the Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes and safe houses that provided shelter to enslaved African Americans seeking freedom in northern U.S. states and Canada in the mid- 1800s.

Jordan served in the Iowa Legislature, where he led an effort to relocate the state capital from Iowa City to Des Moines, according to the historical society. He also helped bring the railroad to the Des Moines area and platted Valley Junction, now West Des Moines.

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The photo is of one of the buildings on the property. Image courtesy Polk County assessor

The property remained with the Jordan family until 1947, when it was sold to the Church of the Nazarene and became part of the group’s summer campgrounds. The historical society purchased the house in 1978. In 2009, Walnut Creek Community Church purchased the property on contract, real estate records show. Walnut Creek Church sold the property, which is adjacent to the Jordan House, to I2 Tech earlier this year.

“It’s important that we know where we come from and how this community – West Des Moines – came to be,” Hadden said.

Houston and Schoen are leading a campaign to raise $3.5 million for the development of the arboretum, which will be maintained by the city of West Des Moines, Hadden said. Both men have each pledged $500,000 toward the project, he said.

The city will be reimbursed $500,000 for the purchase of the property, Hadden said. The remainder of the purchase price is from the city’s general fund reserves. The City Council, at its meeting on June 19, approved the purchase. The transaction was recorded Aug. 11.

A master plan for the arboretum is being developed, Hadden said. “We are going to start taking care of the property right away. One of the first things we’ll do is remove some buildings that are attracting nuisances.”

Transforming the site into an arboretum “is not going to get done all at once,” Hadden said. “It will take some time.”

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Kathy A. Bolten

Kathy A. Bolten is a senior staff writer at Business Record. She covers real estate & development, law & government and retail.

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