Tuesday Morning Perspective

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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Green Light for a Green Sixth Avenue

My friends in River Bend have been working diligently for several years on revitalization of the Sixth Avenue Corridor - their hard work is finally coming to fruition! The process started with organizing property owners along Sixth Avenue from the Mercy to the river to work together (no small task in and of itself). Designation as an "Main Street Urban Neighborhood District" by the Department of Economic Development qualified the organization for technical assistance and economic incentives for redevelopment.

Then came the hard work of figuring out what to do and how to pay for it.

We see the fruits of this labor in the streetscape plan (read it here: LARGE file) just approved by the City Council. The phased costs will be shared by stakeholders that include the City and the 6th Avenue Corridor organization, along with various grants.

The goal is to use streetscape improvements as a tool for revitalizing the businesses and buildings that form the backbone of the surrounding neighborhood. In addition, the EPA will provide design assistance to help the incorporate "green" strategies into the proposed streetscape plan. Early next year, a team of designers and landscape architects is scheduled to participate in a three-day design workshop.

Sixth Avenue Corridor RenderingSixth Avenue Corridor Rendering

Above is a rendering from the plan showing more pedestrian-friendly intersection at 6th and University... what you see is wider sidewalks, an expanded bus stop, street plantings, public art, and better lighting. What you don't see is a fundamental remaking of the critical node into a place that people want to be rather than want to pass through.

In their defense, they are working with established businesses at this intersection and a set of parameters that limit this particular exploration to "streetscape" improvements. On the other hand, the Grand Vision will never come about if it isn't visioned. As built, the McDonald's and Quik Trip are, at their cores, anti-pedestrian. If the desire is to bring about a neighborhood-oriented, pedestrian friendly mixed-use district with residential, retail, and office uses that will serve the surrounding area as well as draw people from a wider radius, this intersection deserves to be planned as such.

A fast-food use is not incompatible with this vision, but should be designed in such a way as to enhance the pedestrian experience rather than separate from it. A gas station use at this intersection is probably not compatible with the underlying 6th Avenue Corridor vision. Particularly if the intention is to build a better connection through to the hospital on the south side of University.

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It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like...

Christmas DecorationsChristmas. The Thanksgiving Turkey is still cooling in the refrigerator. Family and visitors have returned to their planet of origin. We have officially entered the Christmas Season.

Let's start out with a greeting to my friends who celebrate this holiday: Merry Christmas. As a person who does not celebrate Christmas, I am not offended in the least by similar greetings issued to me. I suppose at the very least, one can revel in the spirit of the sentiment.

I also enjoy the light displays that explode on people's lawns. Not the ones where an inflatable army invades and camps out for two months. No, I like the ones where people put thought into using light and greenery to tastefully accent landscaping and historic architecture. (Call my friends at Loki's Garden for a holiday lighting consult if you think you might not be able to pull it off on your own).

Indeed, personal expression helps to liven up urban areas - if you want to experience some unique and beautiful displays, take a drive not through the ridiculously heavy-handed Water Works park, but rather through the Beaverdale, South of Grand, Sherman Hill and Terrace Hill neighborhoods. And neighborhood light tours are FREE.

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YMCA Swap

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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The Filling Station

Listed in the 2008 Des Moines Rehabbers Club "Most Endangered" list, the former Don's Service Station structure has been sitting on cribs in the Kathedral parking lot for four years... The Sherman Hill website now reports that it is finally scheduled to be moved to its permanent home at 18th and Crocker. For more information about the planned conversion to a teen hangout and worship center, visit the "Filling Station" website.

Downtown Development Plans...

KCCI reports that Hubbell Realty Company has initiated the public process for development incentives and zoning approvals for "Cityville", a 288-unit mixed-use complex to be built just south of downtown. Unfortunately, the available news reports were unclear which incentives are being pursued, with various references to tax abatement, loans, tax credits, grants, and tax increment financing. Surely Hubbell will negotiate with the city economic development department to hammer out the specifics - citizens need to be vigilant to ensure that we are getting a good deal.

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