Last year, I scooped the Des Moines Register (by a day) when I posted about the closing of the Mandarin's Beaverdale location. In that article I wrote:

This is a classic example of where not to locate a restaurant! The building, constructed in the mid 1970s, is situated perpendicular from Beaver so that none of the office spaces face the main street. Rather, they face the parking lot (accessed from Euclid, the side street). There is no planned pedestrian access between the sidewalk and the entrance to the Mandarin restaurant.

This design typology is symptomatic of the automobile era: rather than enhance the pedestrian experience and knit the building into the surrounding residential neighborhood, each building is designed to behave autonomously - as if the only way anyone would ever arrive at the building was by car. It turns its back on the main street, necessitating massive signage to direct cars into its parking lot.

Turns out, you CAN have a successful restaurant at this location - you just need to relocate a loyal customer base from a restaurant formerly situated directly across the street. El Aguila Real seems to be making a pretty good run of it after moving into the vacated Mandarin space. It was packed and steady when we visited for dinner a few days ago.

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Ewing Land Development ( has purchased the hotly contested Rice field from the Des Moines Public School District for just under $200,000. They intend to develop a 44-unit senior housing facility on the site - this is a disappointing end to a divisive debate.

In order to fully realize the potential of this beautifully situated and eminently developable site, it should be occupied by relatively dense mixed-use residential and commercial. Given the images available on the Ewing web site, the building constructed will probably be best described as "suburban forgettable". Ultimately, as a single-use senior housing development, this project will represent a failure to plan for future expansion of the Beaverdale pedestrian commercial district.

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It is unfortunate that discussion surrounding the development of the former Rice Field in the Beaverdale neighborhood focuses so much on the personalities and process instead of the actual proposal.

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In my opinion, the best use for this particular site is clearly something more than open space.

In order to grow into the 21st century, what Des Moines needs is actually more projects of the type proposed for the Rice Field site. From the long-term urban planning perspective, the City should be promoting and facilitating densification and expansion of our neighborhood commercial streets as true walkable mixed-use districts.

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After decades of serving Chinese food to Beaverdale and surrounding Des Moines area residents, the Mandarin restaurant will be shutting its doors at this location for good by Christmas. The owners are heading to Taiwan for an extended vacation from Iowa cold, and the restaurant business.

The woman who rang up my carryout last night said they may open another restaurant at a new location, possibly in the Beaverdale area.

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