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Let's Catch Up - February 2023

Luai Amro promotes the AIRaz Academy, an Islamic school for local children.

Maximous Wahba of Saint Mary’s Coptic Orthodox Church holds a censer used to burn incense in worship services.

COME TOGETHER: COMPARISON PROJECT DRAWS 26 FAITH COMMUNITIES TO DRAKE Bahais and Buddhists. Sikhs and Presbyterians. Hindus and Catholics. Jews and Coptics. Friends and Muslims. A smorgasbord of groups representing the Des Moines faith community—26 groups in total—gathered Sunday afternoon at the Olmstead Center on the Drake University campus and organized by The Comparison Project, a Drake program focused on the comparative philosophy of religions. Each table reeled in visitors seeking to learn more about local-lived religion. This, friends, is today’s Des Moines.



Polk County Assessor Randy Ripperger reports that property assessments for the new January 1, 2023, value (updated in odd years, as required by Iowa law) should be mailed on March 31. The notices will impact the first tax payment due September 30, 2024.

Randy expects that the bottom-line “what do I owe?” figure (included in the Polk County Treasurer’s payment notice, mailed in August 2024) will represent about a 3 percent increase in taxable value for most homeowners. Some owners will be glaring at a 22 percent increase in assessed value.

The net taxable value determines your property tax bill: assessed home value, minus the Iowa rollback value, minus military exemption, if applicable. The Assessor’s office has updated appraisals on 186,000 Polk County properties; about 90 percent are residences. The assessed value is based on what the property should sell for in today’s market.

Based on previous years, Randy expects about 7,000 to 9,000 homeowners will file for written protests with the Board of Review. Here’s how to Protest Your Assessed Value (don’t forget to sign your Protest Forms) and important dates:

  • April 2 - April 25 — You may request an Informal Review.

  • April 2 - April 30 — If dissatisfied with the outcome, you can file a Protest. (Randy’s tip: Be sure to provide the Assessor’s office with all pertinent information before your hearing, which lasts about five minutes.) Yes, that’s not a lot of time. Be organized.



The Des Moines calendar is loading up with many headline-grabbing events, including the state girls’ and boys’ high school basketball tournaments, NCAA regional men’s basketball games, “The Lion King,” and RAGBRAI. But does Catch Des Moines snag smallish events, too? Fair question.

There’s no “catch and release” for the Catch team. “We sell and host EVERYTHING,” CEO Greg Edwards says. “Small board meetings, small meetings, conventions that may be for only 50 people. Family reunions, weddings. You name it; we are here at your service if it involves bringing visitors to town. “We don’t categorize what’s small versus what’s large. Sometimes, booking a smaller board meeting may gain us exposure with this group, and maybe it is even the first time they have been to Des Moines. So small may end up big in the long run.“We have a couple of people that will respond to smaller event inquiries. However, all of our sales team will work small and large events, depending on the market they are affiliated with—agriculture, sports, education, religion, and so forth.”

Here are a handful of smaller events that might escape notice:

  • Jammers and blockers flock to Des Moines when the Des Moines Derby Brats and Skate Southhost the Junior Roller Derby Association Regionals on June 17-18.

  • Costumed participants should be easy to spot on downtown streets when Anime Des Moines (previously known as Galaxy Con) meets July 29-30.

  • Elements of basketball, rugby, and dodgeball combine in Quadball, a coed, full-contact sport derived from the “Harry Potter” series and previously known as quidditch. Metro Des Moines hosts the League Quadball Championship August 26-28.

  • We’re not in Wisconsin, but did you know there are now 24 cheese factories in Iowa? (Maytag Dairy Farms, Frisian Farms Cheese House, and the Milton Creamery are just three Iowa producers with national followings.) See if you can wedge in a visit to the American Cheese Society Annual Conference July 18-21. This gathering goes wa-a-y-beyond Velveeta and aged cheddar.

Four-year ambassador David Lewis holds a new broom and one he recently retired after wearing down the bristles about 4 inches. A broom lasts just two months before it ends in a trash receptacle.


Operation Downtown ambassadors are out seven days a week, year-round, keeping downtown streets safe, clean, and beautiful. The 20 ambassadors manage litter, maintain trash receptacles, power-wash sidewalks, pull weeds, scrub down graffiti, maintain and replenish dog disposal stations, and use two-way radios to communicate regularly with staff. In addition, they escalate calls to the Des Moines police when warranted. Shifts start as early as 6 a.m. and stretch into evening hours. But ambassadors do more than keep downtown clean. Hospitality tasks include providing directions and offering suggestions for food or drink.

And the cigarette butts the ambassadors recycle from the ash urns? Every couple of weeks, Operation Downtown ships a box of cigarette butts to an Illinois company that recycles the filters into plastic playground mats and compressed materials for park benches. (Good news and bad: We are one of the company’s best recyclers.)

The downtown Self-Supported Municipal Improvement District (SSMID) funds Operation Downtown via an additional tax on property owners. Scot Blanchard has directed the ambassadors for more than 20 years. Scot reports that some ambassadors have served more than ten years.




The Polk County Supervisors, Broadlawns Medical Center, and St. Vincent DePaul are planning the county’s first Access Center, scheduled to open in the summer of 2024. The building at 1914 Carpenter Avenue—a grocery store in its earliest iteration and later Uncle Sam’s disco club—will be remodeled into the country’s first landing place for individuals dealing with addictions.

Broadlawns will operate the Behavioral Health Urgent Care and Crisis Center beds. In addition, Broadlawns mental health services will be included at this site. Broadlawns government liaison Steve Johnson reports that St. Vincent de Paul has agreed to be the sobering center service line contractor in this building located across from the Polk County Public Health and the Polk County Emergency Management Center.

According to the Journal of the American Public Health Association, “sobering centers offer an alternative to incarceration and relieve overuse of emergency services while assisting individuals with substance-use issues.” In Houston, for example, public intoxication jail admissions had decreased by 95 percent after Harris County opened its sobering center.

Unlike sober-living houses and detoxification centers, clients generally spend less than 24 hours in a sobering center.

Local decision-makers have visited sobering centers in Iowa City and San Antonio, where programs integrate social services with physical and mental health assistance.

Jeff Kane, left, clarinetist and leader of the NOLA Jazz Band, talks with local muralist Chris Vance at a Creatives’ Breakfast Club breakout session.


The Des Moines Arts Festival draws 200,000 visitors downtown each summer and has garnered a wall of achievement plaques, recognizing its stature among similar festivals and events worldwide. But the organization behind the three-day event is more significant than that.

Earlier this year, the organization launched ARTSwork to support creative entrepreneurs, arts organizations, and cultural institutions, while focusing on professional development and capacity-building for independent artists. It’s not only about art for art’s sake: Iowa’s creative class is estimated to fuel the state's economy by $43.9 million in 2019 (the most recent normal year with supplied data).

The first Creatives’ Breakfast Club—think of it as a Rotary Club for artists—held on January 28 drew an SRO crowd in the festival’s Mainframe offices, attracting more than 85 artists of assorted disciplines. Photographer and arts-business consultant Chris Dalhquist was the featured presenter with her program “Building a Thriving Artist Career.”

The Iowa Center for Economic Success partners with ARTSwork partner for the breakfast gatherings planned for the last Saturday of every month. On the February 25 program: Developing a business plan.

ARTSwork staff is preparing a long-overdue online Artist Resource Directory, organized by discipline. A separate Mural Directory to help connect artists, companies, nonprofits, and individuals seeking to brighten the streetscape. The Iowa Arts Council is one of the key partners.

Arts Festival executive director Stephen King stressed three objectives for the increased collaboration:

  • strengthen cross-discipline of artist relationships;

  • facilitate communication; and

  • provide life-long learning opportunities.

Poke around the ARTSwork website, and you’ll find more interesting year-round events planned by the Arts Festival leadership. On March 2, REVEAL will provide a sneak peek at the 190 applications for this year’s festival, winnowed down from 847. The Interrobang Film Festival will roll into its own space during the June 23-25 Arts Festival. Wine & Clay is a November event celebrating earth arts (pottery, figures, tableware, fibers, jewelry, and wood).

Full disclosure: I represent the City on the Des Moines Arts Festival board.



A few weeks ago, I stumbled across an article I penned for a 2003 Capital Striders newsletter that noted The Lift on West Fourth Street, believed to be the first non-smoking bar in Des Moines. “Good news for non-smokers,” the article began. “Several local restaurants and bars are beginning to take notice of us [as in the running community]. A recent issue of Pointblank (the new free alternative weekly) includes a two-page ad from the Central Iowa Tobacco-Free partnership. It says ‘167 restaurants and not one ashtray.’ ” Most listed were locally owned.

“We were swimming uphill for a while,” owner Amedeo Rossi recalls.

It would be spring 2008 before Iowa legislators passed a non-smoking bill for Iowa’s bars and restaurants. The law took effect July 1, 2008. Feels like ancient history.



Jeff Bock uses a new cyclist’s rest bike stand at ML King Parkway and Ingersoll Avenue while waiting for the green bike signal before continuing his westbound commute. The two bike stands at this busy intersection are believed to be the first in the metro area. Copenhagen is credited for the genesis of this street feature, which provides an option to dismount while waiting for the bike signal. In addition, cyclists use the double railing (hand and foot) as a convenience to get a little extra push before entering the intersection.



Four startup food businesses that began in the Mickle Center Shared-Use Kitchen have sprouted wings and are now operating in their own spaces.

  • Dinner Dispatch, family-style meals delivered to the home, has moved to 7246 University Avenue in Windsor Heights. Owners are Jennifer Ordeson and Leann Thongvanh.

  • Prep Kings, individual fully cooked meals, has moved to 700 Locust Street. The operation has sprouted DSM Deli at the same location. Owner is Bob Fox.

  • Peverill’s Apiary, honey and creamed honey sold directly to consumers plus retail locations, has moved to 1673 Northeast 70th Avenue in Ankeny. Owner is Michael Peverill.

  • Hanna Valley Protein, plant-based protein powders, and granola sold direct to consumers, plus retail locations has moved to 128 East Center Street in Truro. Owner is Emily Hanna.

Two additional startups are awaiting final lease paperwork for their kitchen spaces.


NEW PARKLAND EMERGES AT GRAY’S LAKE Crews continue to remove invasive and undesirable trees, vines, and undergrowth on seven acres of newly acquired and donated parkland on the east edge of Gray’s Lake. The City Council approved accepting the additional property about two years ago via a partnership with the Grays Lake and Meredith Trail Advisory Committee.

Late last year, the Conservation Corps of Iowa and Minnesota, part of AmeriCorps, removed trees from about three acres. According to Mike Gaul, parks manager for Parks & Recreation, City crews will continue work on the four remaining acres as time allows.

This summer, the first cleared areas will be seeded with native plants to restore the new acres to meadowland. Then, as time and funding allow, walking trails will be laid out with wood chips.

Mike explained that some trees will be left as snags—dead or dying standing trees that become homes for birds and mammals.

Photo credit: Murza Kudic

5TH STREET BRIDGE LIGHTS RESTORED The spectacular lighting on the Fifth Street Bridge—dark for most of 2022 during the reconstruction of the nearby Raccoon River levees—was finally restored last week.

Make that the historic Fifth Street Bridge that originally opened on June 17, 1898. Yes, nearly 125 years ago.

Later this year, bridge and trail supporters will roll out festive events to celebrate the importance of this bridge to downtown and the nearby southside, known by many as Little Italy. Stay tuned.



Craig Bouska, City civil engineer in charge of the Raccoon River levee projects, reports that Peterson Contractors, Inc (PCI) has armored the river banks with 80,705 tons of limestone riprap—roughly 3,104 truckloads of rock—for Phase B of the $12.7 million project under final stages. If you lined up PCI trucks bumper to bumper, the riprap convoy would stretch more than 35 miles. Impressive. Craig reports that part of the limestone arrived in Dexter via freight train from a quarry near the Iowa-Wisconsin border, then trucked to downtown Des Moines. Other limestone arrived via truck from a Matin Marietta quarry near Marshalltown.


Joe Van Haalen, IAFF Local 4 union president, stands beside a retired 1974 American Lafrance initially put into service as Engine 4 for the Des Moines Fire Department. It now has a permanent home on the first floor of The Shop DSM.

Alexis Storbeck, left, a recent DMFD academy graduate, attends her first official union meeting in The Shop DSM basement. Firefighters Tasha Law, Mitch Duver, and Brandon Osterman are seated at the bar. Tasha and Mitch were among the firefighters who helped remodel the building on days off.


Local 4 members of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) are nearly finished renovating the former Kum & Go Theater—most recently part of the Des Moines Social Club—into their union hall and event venue, rebranded The Shop.

Before the facility was a theater space for a brief run, it was the Des Moines Fire Department’s maintenance shop from 1937 to 2013. Packed into the walls of this sturdy brick building at Southwest Ninth and Cherry streets are 77 years of fire department history.

Not surprisingly, firefighters have taken a shine to the remodeling task. And they’ve done so mainly on the backs and at the skilled hands of Local 4 members. Member firefighters, known for their “side job” skills, completed the lion’s share of the remodeling tasks:

  • General carpentry: Mike Morgan, Sean Lash, Dan Findley, Russ Baker, Jason Shediway

  • Floor polishing/sealing: Mike Flaherty, Matt Dewater, Aaron Bauch

  • Windows: Holly Smith (retired), Josh Wiebel

  • Plumbing: Scott Johnson

“We’ve had a ton of our other folks help these individuals with their side jobs,” reports Local 4 President Joe Van Haalen. “On several days, we’ve had 20-plus members just cleaning and painting.”

Firefighters remodeled the basement into union offices and a meeting room. Members also transformed the main floor and Rooftop into an entertainment venue overlooking downtown Des Moines for weddings, retirement parties, and other gatherings.

It’s a fire-family affair for social media and marketing, too. Mary Brannen—her husband, David, is a union member—is now promoting The Shop DSM event space. Other wives pitched in to build the website and design the bridal suite room.

The main floor has seating space for up to 200 guests; 315 for a reception with smaller tables. The Rooftop has a capacity of 115, and The Basement Lounge can seat 120. Mary has already scheduled four summer and fall weddings and a handful of corporate events.

“With our partnerships,” Mary added, “we want to work with local small businesses—especially businesses that support our community members in public service fields. We have special rates for nonprofit organizations.”

The Shop’s first public open house is Friday, March 17, with a St. Patrick’s Day family-friendly pancake breakfast from 8 to 11 a.m. on. Later that day, The Shop will host an NCAA beer garden with local food trucks.


NEIGHBORHOOD NOTES Earlier this year, the Waveland Park Neighborhood Association paid $500 for 100 promotional spots on Iowa Public Radio (IPR). The suggestion, brought forward by member Mark Johnson, dovetailed with one of the association’s 2023 goals: Build the association’s brand and create a positive reputation for the Waveland Park neighborhood to attract people to want to live, work, and spend time there. IPR created two sponsorship spots: One highlighted the area; the second highlighted neighborhood features, including the Waveland Golf Course and the Roosevelt Cultural District. Neighborhood president Nick Coleman reports they are considering another ad buy in the fall.


  • The Beaverdale Neighborhood Association will sponsor a Home Improvement Fair from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, February 28, at the Northwest Community Center on Franklin Avenue. More than 16 local contractors have agreed to host a booth or table. Invest DSM, City of Des Moines Neighborhood Services, and the Neighborhood Finance Corporation will participate.

  • Neighborhood Services will sponsor a workshop for neighborhood leaders on gaining 501(c)(3) status. The Central Library event will be 5:30-7 p.m. on Thursday, March 2. Two attorneys who specialize in nonprofit work will present and answer questions.

  • The new South Central DSM Neighborhood Association, formed via the merger of South Park, Magnolia Park, and Fort Des Moines groups, will meet for the first time on Tuesday, March 21.



Earlier this month, Susan and I watched The Big Lebowski for the umpteenth time. Dang, so many memorable lines! I was captivated by one of The Dude’s classic lines when asked about life:

“Oh, you know, strikes and gutters, ups, and downs.”

As far as public service rolls, I’d add one crucial edit to The Dude’s bowling analogy: strikes, gutters, and too many splits. And those 7-10 splits are the worst!

Thanks again to Ira Lacher for his keen copy-editing comments on this newsletter.

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