Zoning regulations are a tool communities use to protect property values and guide future development in ways that support an established vision.

Ingersoll Avenue betweten MLK and 42nd Street is zoned "Neighborhood Pedestrian Commercial", for the most part.

Ingersoll Neighborhood Pedestrian Commercial Zoning MapIngersoll Neighborhood Pedestrian Commercial Zoning Map

The Neighborhood Pedestrian Commercial (NPC) district was established to aid in the preservation and stabilization of commercial corridors by:

  • Improving pedestrian access
  • Promoting retail density
  • Protecting the adjacent residential districts
  • Protecting the character of the district

This district type is characterized by multistory brick apartments and one- and two-story commercial buildings with multiple tenants and minimal setback from the primary commercial street. It is intended to include specialty retail and office uses that serve the adjacent residential areas as well as the entire city.

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In response to last week's Perspective, a reader posted the following comment:

As you may or may not know, CVS is planning a new box store to replace the buildings on the northwest corner and when I pushed to have it built on the corner with the parking lot behind it, they balked.

CVS has been working for some time to assemble land and push through the zoning and permitting process for constructing a new store (the first CVS in Des Moines) on Euclid between 2nd and 3rd Avenues.

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I was fortunate to spend this past Thanksgiving in Florida - enjoying the sun, hotdogs at Doc's All American (best hot dog in America?), and of course a bit of urban analysis. Today's nugget comes from the seaside city of Delray Beach, located between Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm. Delray has expanded well beyond its pedestrian urban roots - it is difficult to build UP in Florida due to hurricaines. The downtown business district, however, is clearly thriving with what appear to be three primary business types: restaurants (drawing both regulars and tourists), arts (galleries), and tourist traps (t-shirts/tchatchkes). Between those are scattered various other service and retail businesses like real estate agencies, opthamologists, and civic. On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, several blocks of side streets off the main drag were closed off to traffic for a massive art fair. A regular farmers market set up shop in the park outside our hotel as well.

Delray Beach Streetscape: Note the drive lanes separated from pedestrians by a row of parked cars, a tree row, and canopies at most stores work together to create a comfortable pedestrian environmentDelray Beach Streetscape: Note the drive lanes separated from pedestrians by a row of parked cars, a tree row, and canopies at most stores work together to create a comfortable pedestrian environment

But what I really want to write about today is the little things. Like this:

Whimsical Bike Rack: Whimsical bike rack serves double duty as a play structure when not being used for its "intended" purpose.Whimsical Bike Rack: Whimsical bike rack serves double duty as a play structure when not being used for its "intended" purpose.

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Polk County, Wellmark, and the YMCA are inking a major land swap deal designed to return several vacant downtown buildings to use (reported in the Register). A letter of intent indicates that Wellmark under this deal, Wellmark would trade the former Penny's building at 222 Fifth for the Polk County Convention Complex and $500,000 cash - followed immediately by purchase of the Convention Complex by the YMCA.

Seems to be a good deal for the former Penny's and Polk County Convention Center buildings... Not so sure about the Riverfront YMCA building that will likely be abandoned as part of the Y's relocation. In the Register article, Councilmember Christine Hensley was quoted as saying, "“I think that’s a great piece of land."

Um... There is actually a building on that land. An architecturally significant building.

Downtown YMCA BuildingDowntown YMCA Building

Designed by William Wagner of the noted Des Moines architectural firm Wetherell & Harrison, the YMCA (1957-60) is one of the city’s largest and most important examples of International Style architecture. The building is composed of an eight-story residential tower facing the Des Moines River and a lower section containing community rooms, auditorium, natatorium and other public facilities. Not to mention the public art facade and iconic signage.

It would be a shame to lose this substantial and unique building as part of whatever "development" is envisioned by the City. This building is officially considered endangered.

Winter Downtown Farmers Market

Farmers Market Corn: Image Source: Wikimedia CommonsDuring the uncomfortable winter months, the Downtown Farmers Market shifts to a more hospitable location in the Capital Square building. With one weekend down and one more scheduled for December 14/15, you can still seek out locally produced foods and crafts before the winter holiday season. Of course, the fresh fruits and veggies have largely disappeared... most winter vendors are selling things like locally produced honey, jams, salsa, wine, cheese, soy nuts, homemade noodles, baked breads, pies and cinnamon rolls. There will also still be locally produced eggs and meats as well as winter plants and crafts.

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I just returned from a fabulous summer vacation to the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. While there, I spent most of my time at a cottage on the beach - however, I did get into town a couple times. Saugatuk/Douglas is a close-knit community of just a couple thousand permanent residents that balloons in the summer to tens of thousands. The towns have built for themselves a reputation as both an art and tourist destination. Having avoided the fires that swept through many midwestern towns in the 1800s, Saugatuk retains much its original historic Victorian and Queen Anne style buildings, many of which have been converted to retail shops along the main corridors.

Just a short car ride south of Saugatuk is a town of 5000 permanent residents called South Haven. This small town has a thriving district with, I daresay, more storefront retail than downtown Des Moines! How can this possibly be?

This map shows the main entry to South Haven - complete with a standard Wal Mart at the highway intersection.

View Larger Map

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Just to make it clear, we're not always nitpicky and negative. Lots of good things happen, too!

You may have noticed Redbox DVD vending machines popping up at local Kum and Go stores. Let's hope these ubiquitous red retail robots follow Asimov's three laws - if not, we are all in trouble. There are now six or seven within biking distance of my house! Between Hulu, Netflix, and Redbox it is not hard at all to ditch cable, unless, of course you are a diehard sports fan. Oh, yeah, and don't forget the silly kitty videos on YouTube.

Anyways, in honor of this new distribution agreement, Kum and Go is offering a FREE Redbox rental between June 14 and June 21, 2010.

Free Redbox Coupon: Kum and Go is offering a FREE Redbox rental between June 14 and June 21, 2010.Free Redbox Coupon: Kum and Go is offering a FREE Redbox rental between June 14 and June 21, 2010.

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According to a Business Record article:

Monrovia, Calif.-based Trader Joe's will open in West Des Moines, a spokeswoman with the privately held chain of specialty grocery stores confirmed today. Alison Mochizuki said Trader Joe's in 2010, will open a 12,200-square-foot store at Galleria at Jordan Creek at 6305 Mills Civic Parkway.

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General Growth Stock Price PlummetsGeneral Growth Stock Price PlummetsReal estate investment giant General Growth stock plummeted to around $0.35 per share this morning on news that the company may declare bankruptcy. General Growth developed and owns the Jordan Creek Town Center "retail resort" in West Des Moines.

Over the next few years, almost $4 billion in debt from recent property acquisition comes due, but current income from their real estate holdings doesn't cover the payments. General Growth acquired Rouse Company in 2004 for $7.2 billion, mostly financed through short-term debt instruments. Defaulting on one debt would likely cause other creditors to call their loans due, precipitating a catastrophic avalanche of defaults.

General Growth officials blame the "credit crunch" for the company's current financial woes. That is, they cannot find people to loan them money to cover their existing loans. Now that there is blood in the water, it becomes even more unlikely that anyone will loan them money - a self-fulfilling prophesy.

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The Retail Blank Wall

27 Aug 2008

Storefront Decoration at University Ave. Radio ShackStorefront Decoration at University Ave. Radio Shack (circa 2005) - Photo by Polk County Assessor's OfficeWith few exceptions, blank walls ruin the pedestrian experience. Blank walls make it difficult to discern what is happening inside the adjacent buildings, decrease the number of "eyes on the street", and promote an automobile-centric environment.

The Radio Shack at University and 42nd Street is an excellent example of how the location of the main entrance can have a huge impact on the urban character of a building.

The structure itself, is actually relatively urban. It is built up to a generous sidewalk, with the parking located in back. There is a small path between buildings that allows shoppers to easily make their way from their cars to the stores in the adjacent building. It maintains a good street edge and lines up with the adjacent building.

There is just one problem, but it's a killer: the main (only) public entry to the Radio Shack store is on the back corner of the building!

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