Updated: May 28


At Monday evening’s meeting, the City Council approved a plan to provide incentives for City employees to live or rent within Des Moines city limits. The goal is to encourage more employee investment in the City and enhance employee-community relations.

Qualified employees who purchase a home in the City of Des Moines and maintain it as their primary residence for at least five years will get a one-time forgivable loan of $15,000, minus any other incentives. (A prorated portion of the amount becomes a lien against the home if the homeowner leaves City employment or relocates outside the City.) Qualified employees who sign a lease of at least 12 months for a City rental residence will receive two separate incentive payments of $1,000.

Residency incentives grew out of the Civil and Human Rights Commission’s Bridging the Gap program.


Saturday, I joined 30-plus volunteers from Central Presbyterian Church to knock out all the wall panels for a new Habitat for Humanity home planned for 1323 13th Street in the King Irving Neighborhood. Habitat staff plan to turn over the keys to the first-time homeowners this fall.

Without one nail gun, we cut and assembled all the exterior and interior walls for the 1,110 square-feet home, including the closets. Habitat valued our contribution at $3,848.

This year, the local Habitat chapter, working with BSB Design of Des Moines, plans to complete 34 affordable homeownership opportunities in the metro area.

These homes don’t get built by themselves! Here’s how to volunteer. To organize a group, call the Habitat offices at 515-471-8686 x 111.


If you were in the Court Avenue District Saturday night, you might have glimpsed the first Des Moines BCycle e-bikes assembled for the local fleet. Over the next two weeks, Street Collective employees will distribute 65 e-bikes to the 27 BCycle stations around the metro. (Total BCycle bikes in the fleet: 200.)

Des Moines has the longest-operating BCycle program in the USA. The local program started with four stations and 18 bikes in 2010. New BCycle stations in the metro include the Clive Aquatics Center, Clive Campbell Park, Windsor Heights Colby Park, and the Des Moines Water Works Park.

The expansion is part of a $170,000 Transportation Alternatives Program grant awarded to the City of Clive through the Des Moines Area MPO. According to Street Collective Executive Director Jeremy Lewis, “This project would not have been possible without significant financial investment from MidAmerican Energy Company, and the cities of Clive and Windsor Heights.”

Street Collective employee Muhamed Ibisevic invited his friends Rebecca Clay, left, and Alexis Rose, right, on a trial ride. Yes, smiles all around.


When it comes to planting pepper seedlings for summer gardens, generations of Ausilios in the Des Moines area are mighty picky about what to plant—no ordinary pepper will do: It’s gotta be the Ausilio thin-skinned Italian peppers.

How treasured are the seeds passed down through five generations? In 2017, Decorah-based Seed Savers Exchange added the family’s pepper seeds to its catalog of 20,000 items, declaring the Ausilio peppers as among the best-researched additions. Soon afterward, the Ausilio pepper seeds were added to the “doomsday” seed vault deep inside the Arctic Circle in Svalbard, Norway.

Well-regarded local chefs Tony Lemmo and George Formaro worship them. “They are such an important ingredient that embodies all the folks who immigrated to Des Moines from southern Italy,” Tony says. “Plus, there is no better pepper around that combines everything a pepper should be. They are truly divine after roasting and preserving them in oil.” If you are fortunate, you might find these cherished pepper plants at Gateway Market.

Chad Ogle-Riccelli, the owner of Action Auto Body, keeps the family tradition going and growing with more than 600 pepper plants started each spring in his backyard greenhouse. When July arrives, Chad; his wife, Michele, and their three kids harvest peppers that are fried, canned, dried, and added to family recipes. Cherished recipes include Sarda (a rolled bread with peppers and anchovies) and Pastachiena (a casserole laced with layers of pasta, cheese, hard-boiled eggs, meatballs, tomato sauce, and peppers).

Here’s a quick family and pepper history:

Giovanni “John” Ausilio, Chad’s great-grandfather, immigrated from Campana, Italy, in the early 1900s. He later met and married Rachel Scarcello, who arrived in Des Moines from Terravecchia, Italy. The young couple lived on Motley Street near MacRae Park, where they maintained a tidy garden that included peppers from cherished seeds originally sent from Italy. For the second generation, seeds from the local Ausilio pepper plants were a wedding gift for their daughter Theresa, now 96 years young, when she married Nick Riccelli.

Today’s Ogle-Riccelli garden consists of the Ausilio peppers, as well as tomatoes and herbs. “The peppers have always been consistent over all these generations,” reports Michele: bell to triangular-shaped peppers, with excellent, moderate to high-heat flavor, up to 3½ to 5 inches long and 1½ to 2½ inches wide. “Stewed, dried, stuffed, or fried, this pepper is at the center of our family’s culinary traditions,” Michele says. “Naturally, they require full sunlight, warm soil, water, conversation, and love.“

Yes, conversation and love! An observant Ausilio descendant talks to the pepper plants daily. Theresa, Chad’s grandmother, recommends giving a warm morning greeting to pepper plants. And of course, don’t forget to say “Good night.” With that, an Ausilio plant frequently grows 5 feet tall and produces 24 or more peppers.

Read more about the Ausilio family pepper plants.


This year has the makings of a long season to cover new graffiti in Des Moines. In the photo, Kat Rivera, a member of the City’s graffiti team, rolls gray latex paint over a slew of taggings beneath the Seventh Street Bridge and along the Meredith Trail.

Graffiti is a growing eyesore in Des Moines. Graffiti tickets reported to the City rose from 280 in 2018 to 497 in 2020. For the last fiscal year, the three-person team, supervised by Jody Rouse, used 100 gallons of paint to cover the vandalism beneath bridges, wooden buildings, and light poles. This fiscal year they’ve used 142 gallons. In addition, they have run through 70 gallons of chemical concentrate to power-wash the graffiti where necessary.

You can use the MyDSMmobile app to open a ticket to remove graffiti. Here’s a PDF you can download for additional information.


On Ingersoll Avenue and elsewhere, the City is installing permeable pavers, which allow water to pass through to the layers underneath. As you might imagine, a traditional street sweeper would quickly clog the gaps in the pavers, so the Public Works Department has replaced one sweeper with an Elgin Whirlwind street vacuum, purchased for $316,334 in late 2020. The City’s fleet now contains six waterless sweepers and four water sweepers.


Dinner Dispatch founders LeAnn Thongvanh, left, a nurse, and Jen Ordeson, a teacher, cooked up an enviable business plan, then watched their business grow more than 300% during the pandemic. Woohoo!

Dinner Dispatch is an affordable, local version of Blue Apron or Hello Fresh but with an added benefit—they prep everything. No chopping, dicing or sauce-making; the ingredients are ready to go. And they rely heavily on local suppliers: Ebersole Cattle Company in Kellerton sources grass-fed ground beef. Giddy’s Goodies provides excellent scotcheroos featured in some dinners. And Prep Kings is the go-to for addictive Energy Balls.

Every Monday, Dinner Dispatch delivers about 1,500 dinner servings to 100 or more households in the metro area. Two-thirds of the meals they prepare are intended for families, serving 4 to 6. The remaining third (half portions serving 2 to 3), end up at the doors of empty nesters and young professionals. (

The menus change weekly. Among the favorites: beef stroganoff, a meatball sub casserole, and Honey Sriracha Asian Chicken Salad. Other offerings are ready for the freezer.

What started as a partnership between friends has grown into a business supporting 15 part-time workers, including drivers (10 routes currently in the metro), prep workers, and support staff. While Jen’s mom was a professional chef, LeAnn had no background in culinary arts. But, she says, “Family shows through in our love for food.”

Dinner Dispatch is the first business to graduate from the Mickle Center Shared-Use Commercial Kitchen into its own space. Jen and LeAnn recently moved into a remodeled 1,200-square-feet prep kitchen at Apple Valley in Windsor Heights.

“It’s just so hard to fathom how fast we’ve grown,” LeAnn marvels. “We moved into the Mickle Center kitchen in November 2019. In January 2020, we were feeling pretty good about the opportunities. Then with COVID, our sales tripled almost overnight. Word of mouth and Facebook is where we’ve found a lot of new customers.

“We’re ready to grow again in our new space.”

Jen has effusive praise for the Mickle Center’s kitchen and its supervisor, Mary Kapler. “We couldn’t have started this business without Mary and this kitchen,” Jen praised. “Mary coached us through how to prepare for our state inspections and helped us ramp up our recipe development. We owe Mary a lot.”

Explore Dinner Dispatch’s menu here.


Think Waveland Golf Course is exclusive territory for duffers and the winter sledders? We have an event for you.

The Waveland Park Twilight Family Walk/Run is your opportunity to enjoy a leisurely evening walk or run on the oldest golf course west of the Mississippi River. It all kicks off at 8 p.m. on Friday, June 18. (The course is closed to golfers that evening.) Sponsors include the Waveland Golf Course, Friends of Des Moines Parks, the Waveland Park Neighborhood Association, and the Capital Striders Running Club.

On the 4-mile course—you can shorten your walk, if you wish—you’ll stick to the asphalt golf cart paths that wind their way through nearly 2,000 trees. Then, circle back to the historic Waveland clubhouse for a slice of Fat Joe’s pizza and a beer or soft drink.

Plan your walk here.


A $750,000 expansion and renovation of the Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens is taking place along the Des Moines River. The expansion north of a pagoda, installed in 2009, includes a wood-planked boardwalk and more than 25,000 new plantings in the Jim Muto Recreation Area. Looks for a re-dedication of the gardens in September.

When completed with updated lighting and security, the management of the Asian Gardens will transfer from the Riverfront Development Authority to the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden.

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A group of bike friends organized a trail cleanup Friday on the Carl Voss Trail. Someone suggested I should participate!

Dang, this was a group of 10 ambitious volunteers—all friends. Stayed after it for four hours and pretty much made a clean sweep:

20 or so tires, stove, water heater, plastic drain tile, wheel barrow plus countless plastic bags and water bottles.

Here’s a note from Ben Page, Parks & Recreation director:

"This has to be one of our most successful groups based on the size of the group, amount of trash collected and in a short time. It’s really cool to see what volunteers can do.”

Helps to have few farm-raised volunteers who aren’t shy about getting after it!

Event organized by Randy Kramer and his Fun Haters friends; Jordan Hildreth from the Des Moines Parks & Recreation volunteer staff provided support.

This trail looked especially fine for Saturday's RAGBRAI Roadshow from Water Works Park to Easter Lake (Meredith, Carl Voss and Mark Ackelson trails).

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Updated: Mar 19



Towering 6 x 6 x 10-foot cedar posts frame the backyard improvement of Kendra and Zach Young’s two-story home on Rutland Avenue in the Drake Neighborhood. A new 15 x 15-foot deck is twice the size of the one they replaced. Zach has just a few cosmetic tasks, mostly landscaping and lights, before the couple are ready for outdoor entertaining.

Of the $6,000 the couple spent last year on building materials, $1,400 was reimbursed through a grant from the Homeowner Renovation Program from Invest DSM, a nonprofit established in 2020 and funded primarily by the City of Des Moines and the Polk County Supervisors. The Youngs were among the first homeowners to complete their project.

Kendra and Zach were introduced to Invest DSM through the Neighborhood Block Challenge, which targeted four neighborhoods for home improvement. Nearly 80 Drake homeowners participated, including 30 in the Rutland-Cottage Grove area. These 30 homeowners collectively invested $151,975, and Invest DSM reimbursed $61,433. (Throughout Des Moines, 240 homeowners participated; every dollar that Invest DSM spent, owners invested $1.51.)

“It was great to see everyone working in their yards last summer,” says Zach, who provided all the sweat equity save for hired help with footings. “We really got to know our neighbors.”

For 2021, Invest DSM has 16 approved homeowner projects and another 87 projects in the pipeline. Projects range from new siding and kitchen remodels to bath additions and decks.

Zach has good news about the application process. “For my job with the Metropolitan Planning Organization,” Zach added, “I review a lot of grants. The Invest DSM grant process is the easiest I’ve ever seen.” Learn more and request a grant here.


A Nikon digital camera stolen from a Lower Beaver home and recovered at a local pawn shop. A Samsung smartphone recovered from an Arizona pawn shop. A bike stolen from a Drake Neighborhood porch and recovered from an Ingersoll Avenue pawn shop. A Winchester rifle recovered in a Missouri pawn shop.

Des Moines police returned each item to its rightful owner. It’s all because of a new online system to assist recovering stolen property.

Beginning in November, the Des Moines police department became the first metro Des Moines force to use Leads Online, a national database for recovering stolen property; all eight Des Moines pawn shops now participate, as well as several jewelry shops that pawn items, according to Lt. Chad Steffen, of the DMPD’s Crimes Against Persons Section. Under the program, Chad says, pawn shops must submit their pawned items into Leads Online. “It would be great,” Chad says, “if our neighboring communities would get on board with reporting to Leads Online so that we would have more success recovering property that is stolen from Des Moines and pawned in their cities.”

Chad provided additional details on some Leads Online local successes:

In mid-November, a porch pirate swiped a UPS package containing a Kenwood dual-band radio from a Highland Park home. (I am withholding all names and specific locations out of privacy concerns.) “I figured I’d never see it again,” the homeowner confessed. However, detectives recovered the radio in early December from a Northeast Side pawn shop. Charges were filed against a suspect verified by the home’s security cameras.

In early October, a thief stole a Giant Escape bike from a Drake Neighborhood rear porch. “This bike was dear to me—a perfect bright yellow-green,” the resident said. “And I had it locked up, too!” Five weeks later, the bike showed up in a west-side pawn shop. Detectives returned the bike to the owner, who was “extremely appreciative to have it back.” An arrest warrant was issued.

A snowblower stolen from a Woodland Heights garage was recovered seven days later at an East Side pawn shop; police charged a suspect with possession of stolen property. The incident connects to a stolen-car case that is still open.

In addition, DMPD is working with local scrapyards to record information about individuals peddling catalytic converters, an auto emission-control device containing precious metals. The stolen device is worth $125-$500 at scrapyards. Replacement cost the owner: north of $1,500. In Des Moines, catalytic-converter thefts spiraled in 2020. Chuck Smith, a local State Farm agent, reports eight cases so far in 2021; his agency had one claim in all of 2020.

Leads Online also connects with items sold on eBay, Craigslist, OfferUp, Letgo, and other platforms.

How to Help Police Recover Your Property

Part of the key to recovering stolen items is for homeowners and business to list items on Leads Online. You can list jewelry, electronics, mobile phones, credit cards, power tools, firearms, motor vehicles, and bicycles.

It took me fewer than two minutes to enter information about each of my bikes (make, model, year purchased, serial number). I especially appreciated the option to upload up to four photos of each bike. This feature seems especially valuable for jewelry and other items without a serial number.

True confession: In September 2019, I had three bikes stolen from my garage. Since then, Adams Door Company upgraded my overhead garage door opener with a new model (Liftmaster 8550w) that sends an alert to my iPhone any time the door is open longer than 3 minutes. Comforting! I now lock all my bikes to each other in the garage.


Spring is a time for optimism, and what better time to be optimistic about our city! There’s reason to be, thanks to news about four key areas. Here’s a roundup of Four Big Visions:

Vision No. 1: Birdland Park Master Plan After a 23-person advisory committee collected five months of input that included 350 survey responses, as well as public meetings attended by more than 200 residents, Park and Recreation Board members in late February got their first peek at the Birdland Park and Marina Master Plan. “It felt to me that every voice was heard,” says Des Moines Rowing Club President Tonya Logan, who served on the advisory committee.

Led by park planner Colby Fangman, the plan will guide the redevelopment of the park, marina, and Birdland Drive corridor. Big changes include:

· realigning Birdland Drive to reduce conflict between motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians;

· dredging to reactivate the lagoon;

· establishing a river connection for kayaks and canoes;

· enlarging the marina from the current 63 slips to a maximum 150; and

· building a two-story Birdland Boathouse to be used by the Des Moines Rowing Club, Captain Roy’s, a water trail outfitter, and park operations.

“We’re very excited about the proposed Boat House and what this will mean to our program,” Tonya says. “When Birdland becomes a destination park, we know more will be involved in rowing.”

But it’s not just about the water, adds Tonya, who also singled out the upgrades for the Ding Darling Shelter. “What a cool thing they’ve designed for the neighborhood, with a playground, splash pad, and skate ribbon.”

For more information, please see the project website.

Vision No. 2: South of Gray’s Lake Master Plan

Another big plan rolling forward is redeveloping the area south of Gray’s Lake. This 140-acre area, from Fleur Drive to Southwest Seventh Street, was once planned for the Southwest Connector, from West Des Moines to downtown Des Moines. Now, plans are underway to serve active neighborhoods and Gray’s Lake Park improvements. If you’re interested in learning more, join a virtual public workshop Tuesday, March 30. View details here.

Vision No. 3: MacRae Park Enhancements Just south of downtown, at the gateway to the Southwest Ninth Street corridor, city staff have queued up Phase 3 improvements to MacRae Park. Phase 1 included converting the WPA-era Walker Shelter’s renovation into a year-round rental shelter; Phase 2 included the EMC Overlook and the Julia Brenton Shelter.

This final round, designed by deputy senior planner Lee Wheelock, encompasses a natural playscape and a splash pad at the south end of the 50-acre park. Other slated features include an open-air pavilion; the final section of the park trail loop, which includes a pedestrian bridge across the creek; and a boardwalk and fishing pier across the pond.

The City Council called for bids at its March 8 meeting; the City Engineer’s office has estimated the project to cost $2.7 million, paid in part by grants and private donations. A $300,000 donation from a generous donor will underwrite the playscape.

Vision No. 4: Beaverdale Park Master Plan

City park planner Aaron Graves is sifting through more than 637 comments regarding ideas for Beaverdale Park, a 24.8-acre green space that sits on the north side of Adams Street and hugs the Inter-Urban Trail. Expect details soon about a May open house to review the initial master plan. The final design and an estimated cost are scheduled for late July.

FINDING HOMES As the Beatles sang, it’s been a long, cold, lonely winter. But for the homeless, it’s been a matter of life and death. In mid-February, I caught up with Joe Stevens, the CEO of Joppa, a nonprofit that helps “get people safe, provide job skills, then get a job, and finally a place to live,” according to their statement of purpose.

Joe reported that Joppa staff and volunteers distributed 200 propane heaters among about 200 Des Moines persons without homes who had burrowed in to survive the worst winter days. Most of those so encamped, he says, stretch an 18-pound tank of propane for a week’s auxiliary heat. Joppa paid a little over $2,600 for a week’s supply of propane.

In late February, the City Council approved a zoning change to allow Joppa to build an infill duet cottage (think duplex) at 1010 13th Street, west of the St. Paul AME Church in the Cheatom Park Neighborhood. The idea is to help people transition from temporary shelter to stable housing. I think it’s a pretty danged exciting project! Next steps: getting an approved building permit and starting construction. Wells Fargo is the lead community sponsor.

Architect Steve Moore, design director Ed Binkley and the team at BSB Design have developed a 24 x 20-foot unit, which Steve says is similar in size to some senior residences and entry-level apartments on the Des Moines market. Built on a concrete slab, the unit includes a bedroom, bath, living room, and kitchen. The design also includes a front porch just shy of 80 square feet.

Joe says getting the building cost to around $45 to $50 a square foot would put the monthly rent in the $600 range. That should equate to 30% to 40% of take-home pay, Joe says.

BSB Design, based in West Des Moines, has worked with Joppa to create a similar affordable house, in Cheatom Park, which opened in 2019. That 380-square-feet cottage home rents for $550 a month, fully furnished. It includes a TV, appliances, window treatments, a washer-dryer, and an interior designed down to wall art and accessories, Joe says.

Joppa and BSB have partnered to develop other designs, from 184 square-foot efficiencies that start at $250 a month for someone on a fixed SSI income of $794 a month, to two-bedroom homes with a small garage for a small family that rents for $750 a month. Joppa expects its next project will be efficiency-sized row homes.

More about Joppa and how you can help.

SKATEPARK READIES FOR GRAND OPENING A regional skatepark for Des Moines has been in the planning since 2004, when a Grace Methodist youth group first brought the idea forward to AMOS adults and elected officials. Now, crews for California Skatepark, the designers and general contractor for the Lauridsen Skatepark, are back in Des Moines to wrap up the final concrete work. Billed as the nation’s largest skatepark, the $6.1 million attraction is scheduled for a May 22 grand opening. All that remains is completing the promenade from Bobber Park parking along the Des Moines River, installing benches, and landscaping. If you’re as excited about this major attraction as I am (on the committee since 2004), check out a live view of the job site.

In the next few days, “Dew” expect to read an announcement of the first major skateboard tour to hit Des Moines!


(with a tip of the hat to Register Big Peach sports columnist Maury White)

Downtown Snow Removal: Even though this winter’s snowfall was 14th highest all-time, we dodged the estimated $400,000 expense of hauling snow away from downtown streets, curbs, and parking meters, according to Public Works Director Jonathan Gano. City adds 11 electric vehicles: About July 1, the city will take delivery of 11 Nissan Leaf electric vehicles (EVs) for the Neighborhood Services staff. City fleet manager Brian Bennett reported significant savings during a pilot program with the Leaf EVs. Yay — pothole season: Now that arctic temperatures and the usual snowfalls are (ahem!) behind us, nasty potholes have sprung up everywhere. You can help locate potholes you drive across (or into) by logging potholes via the myDSMmobile app. Also, you can use the app to report graffiti, streetlight outages, weeds, and a dozen other issues. Note sale saves city $9.4 million: At a February special meeting, the City Council approved retiring $39,325,000 in general obligation notes by selling them to Robert Baird & Company, saving the city $9.4 million. That’s because the notes were issued in 2013 at 4.3% interest; Baird, whose bid beat that of 30 underwriters, bought the notes at 0.882651% true interest cost (TIC). Yes, interest below one percent. Des Moines carries an AA+ rating.

Wild Lights at Blank Park Zoo: I’m proud to say I’m the city’s representative on the Blank Park Zoo Foundation. So I can tell you that the zoo, along Southwest Ninth Street south of Army Post Road, has a new family-friendly attraction for the next two months. You can view larger-than-life Asian lanterns Wednesdays–Sundays, 7 to 10 p.m. Here’s more information. Growing more tree dollars: Fiscal Year 2022 has a nice budget bump to plant more trees in rights-of-way between sidewalk and curb or along parkways. Next year’s budget will fund about 1,800 new trees, up from 533 in the current fiscal year. Just one example: This year’s planting schedule includes 284 trees in four Invest DSM neighborhoods. The nonprofit group Trees Forever (they’re the ones behind those 5-gallon buckets at the bases of new trees) shoulders most of the expenses. And they welcome volunteers! Sign up online.

Des Moines-Carlisle trail connection: Park Planner Colby Fangman reports that the three-mile trail gap between Des Moines and Carlisle is inching toward realization. Carlisle and Warren County Supervisors and the Warren County Conservation Board recently signed off on approvals for a 28E agreement that enables collaboration between local government bodies. The City of Des Moines will lead the project. Next up: Secure the project corridor, then onward to engineering design. Based on the current progress, anticipate trail building beginning in 2023.


After a 15-year career as a Mars barista, Daniel Bosman took a giant leap in November to buy the Mars location in the East Village. And right in the midst of a pandemic! First task: Change the shop name to Daisy Chain Coffee. When asked how it was going as a business owner, Daniel replied: “Pretty good, all things considered. But do you know that I’ve never seen some of my customers without a mask? Kinda strange.”

Sue Mattison, Drake University’s provost, worked from her downtown home for all the 2020 spring semester and summer. “I had been working at home from March 13th through August 15, and have continued to work from home one or two days a week,” Sue said. “Because all meetings are Zoom, when I work from home, I’ll wear a nice silk blouse on top, and Captain Marvel sweat pants and slippers on my lower half. One day in October as I left home for the first time to go into the office, I had the nagging sensation I was forgetting something. I checked everything twice: keys, phone, mask, computer, everything I needed. As I was walking into my office, I realized—at the same time my colleagues realized—what I forgot. I was still wearing my slippers.”

Overheard at the Wellmark Downtown YMCA: If you're wearing a mask, it's amazing how similar 'exercise' sounds like 'extra fries!'

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