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Let's Catch Up - January 2023


ESCAPE WINTER’S GRIP FOR A SUNDAY AFTERNOON: HEAD TO BOTANICAL BLUES AT THE BOTANICAL GARDEN

Here’s a great way to enjoy live music in a tropical surrounding: Head to the Botanical Garden for an afternoon of rockin’ blues music on Sunday afternoons through March 26.


Air B and B—Bob Pace and Brendan McKnight—kick off this year’s Botanical Blues sessions on Sunday, Jan 8 with 1 pm and 3 pm concerts.


Each Sunday features another popular Central Iowa Blues group. One of our favorites—Major Blues and the Mugshots, above—will play Jan. 15. The season wraps up with Bob Dorr and Jeff Petersen (original Blue Band members) on March 26. Guests can wander under the Botanical Garden dome between sets.


Free admission for Botanical Garden members; adults $10. More details.

 

COMMUNITY LAND TRUSTS: PATH TO HOMEOWNERSHIP

In 41 states, nonprofit Community Land Trusts (CLTs) create “affordable forever” home networks that advocate for low- and moderate-income families to overcome ownership barriers. Iowa is one of the nine states without one. But that may be about to change.


In mid-November, the City of Des Moines underwrote two days of workshops to introduce the CLT concept to the metro area. The workshops, orchestrated by A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy (AMOS), drew 120 registered participants, from nonprofit groups, nine metro cities (including 11 Des Moines staff members and three City Council members), and two Polk County supervisors.


CLTs provide permanently affordable housing for people who otherwise would not be able to purchase homes, and also can play a significant role in neighborhood stabilization and revitalization.


Homes are owner-occupied; the CLT owns the property beneath and surrounding the home. The price of a CLT house is based on the median income in the area—not on the market. A subsidy makes up the difference between the affordable and actual price; the subsidy amount stays with the CLT. Families purchase the homes at a discount. Each time the house is resold, it goes to another income-qualified family.


Tim Urban, a developer and former City Council member-at-large, attended one of the sessions, and sees tremendous opportunity for Des Moines. “CLTs provide a unique opportunity for landowners of dormant property to donate the property to a CLT at fair market value with the benefit of tax savings,” he says, adding:

“The CLT, as a nonprofit, leases the land for 99 years to be developed for deed-restricted affordable housing that offers the housing owner a fair rate of appreciation while maintaining the home as affordable for many years—a win/win concept. I am exploring this as soon as a CLT can be set up in Des Moines.”


City staff, led by Chris Johansen, director of Neighborhood Services, and Pa Goldbeck, strategic performance manager, are taking a deeper dive into CLT research and discussion among City staff.


Read more: Cities with successful CLTs.

 
Photo: Marlen Kemmet

THE EAGLES RETURN TO DES MOINES

Freezing temperatures have convinced beloved bald eagles that they can check out of the Des Moines and Raccoon river corridors anytime, but they can never leave. So they’re back! And they’re quite a sight to see in the winter months.


On one of my morning runs last week, a huge eagle perched in a tree just south of the Embassy Suites and directly above me. It’s a memorable occasion to be so close to America’s national bird, which was on the endangered species list just a few decades ago.

According to Joel Van Roekel, naturalist for Des Moines Parks and Recreation, the best locations to view the eagles are downstream from the Scott Avenue Bridge, where the open water in the winter months provides good fishing for these birds of prey. Other popular places to view eagles soaring above or resting include the First Street Bridge, between Principal Park and Mullet’s; the East Sixth Bridge; and the Southeast 14th Street Bridge. During a frigid cold spell, it’s common to count 20 or more eagles in the trees just east of Mullet’s.


Joel reports the eagles are most active in the morning.


Parks and Recreation staff has scheduled a Bald Eagle Day for Saturday, Feb. 11, from 10 a.m. till noon. Joel will be on the East Sixth Bridge with binoculars and spotting scopes. Free—no registration. Just show up!

 

IN THE HUNT FOR SEASONAL WORKERS

When you’re wearing a parka, earmuffs, scarf, and gloves, you may find yourself wishing for the summer swimming season! Des Moines Parks and Recreation is already planning for it.


Since it takes a small army of seasonal employees to fully staff two swimming pools, three family aquatic centers, four splash pools, five wading pools, and five park-based summer camps, the Parks & Rec staff got an early start on recruiting for 2023, with 300 positions (15 different job descriptions) posted on Dec. 16. Several positions offer premium pay and bonuses. In addition, the City plans to reimburse new hires for lifeguard certification programs.


“As a reminder,” Director Ben Page added, “we hire not only students but adults and retirees too.”

 
Planting trees on the Carl Voss Trail in May

TREES FOREVER DOUBLES 2022 GOAL

City Forester Shane McQuillan reports that Trees Forever, the City’s partner in restoring the City’s tree canopy, planted 1,772 trees on City property in 2022; that more than doubled their contracted obligation of 843.


Trees Forever planted 356 trees through the support of other funding sources (Parks/Nonprofit, 129; Invest DSM, 150; and Carl Voss Trail, 77). In addition, Growing Futures, the Trees Forever summer job corps, waters new trees for two years, providing a healthy start for the nursery stock.


The Public Works Forestry Division planted another 30 street trees via an Iowa Department of Natural Resources grant with Urban Ambassadors. That bumps the total to 1,802 new trees on City property. (There is no accounting of trees planted on private property in Des Moines.)


The 2020 Urban Forestry Master Plan calls for 3,800 trees to be planted annually in Des Moines. But, unfortunately, we have a ways to go in annual budget asks meet that recommendation.


 

SOMETHING NEW FOR DM:

ALL-GENDER BATHROOMS

In recent months, City staff has a handful of plans for new or renovated buildings that include gender-neutral or all-gender restrooms. The west end of the former Crescent Chevrolet building (soon to be offices and a restaurant) has two such restrooms. The space on the main floor has a common area with five sinks and eight adjoining private toilet compartments.

According to Cody Christensen, the City’s permit and development administrator, “Gender-neutral restrooms are becoming more common in building design. Single-user gender-neutral restrooms have been seen for a long time, but we are starting to see layouts with multi-user gender-neutral facilities.


“The Iowa Plumbing Code language makes such designs code compliant, and we expect to see more of them.”


 

NEIGHBORHOOD NOTES

Heather Tamminga, the City’s neighborhood outreach coordinator, reports that several of Des Moines’ 49 neighborhood associations plan to transition to bimonthly or quarterly meetings in the new year. By her count, 20 plan to meet monthly, six groups are to meet bimonthly, and 17 plan to meet quarterly. In addition, five associations are working to re-establish a date pattern.


When Heather started her job in November 2021, only 20 associations were incorporated; that has grown to 39. Several associations are seeking incorporation. Thirteen neighborhood associations have earned nonprofit 501c3 status; two more have applied.


The City has awarded 26 associations $1,000 Capacity Building Grants upon their completion of incorporation, gaining a federal tax EIN number, and establishing a bank account with two signers. Other associations are working through the process.


Heather also reported that 231 households participated in the 2022 Block Challenge Grant program, designed to improve the physical appearance of Des Moines’ neighborhoods and build neighborhood identity. There were 19 teams around the City; 11 were in low- or moderate-income neighborhoods. Total investment was $1,645,569; the City provided $439,186, and homeowners added the rest. Landscaping and painting were the top two project categories.


Enthused one homeowner: “I really appreciate this program and what it has done for me, my neighbors, and the neighborhood! Clearly, it has brought us closer together. Thanks again!”


New LED screen for Summer Free Flicks. In 2023, Parks and Recreation plans to roll out a new LED video screen and trailer for its “Free Flicks” in neighborhood parks. Advanced LED technology makes it possible to view the 17 x 10-feet video screen during daylight, lighting up new opportunities for community engagement. Previously, neighborhoods couldn’t show movies until after dusk. Funding from The Friends of Des Moines Parks, Prairie Meadows, and City coffers made the $150,000 purchase possible.


Westwood’s Food Drive. Neighbors contributed $2,141 to a late-December virtual food drive to benefit the Food Bank of Iowa.

 

LIBRARY’S MOST POPULAR TITLES

What did we read this past year? According to lists compiled by Des Moines Public Library Director Sue Woody and her staff, the most requested frequently requested title was It Ends With Us, Colleen Hoover’s general fiction tome. Second was Taylor Jenkins Reid’s The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, also fiction. The most requested nonfiction title was Jeannette McCurdy’s Im Glad My Mom Died. In the teen fiction category, Firekeepers Daughter by Angeline Boiulley topped the field.




 

MAINFRAME: FILLED TO THE BRIM WITH 180 STUDIOS

This month, artists will begin moving into 47 new studios on the second floor of Mainframe Studios, the brightly colored former CenturyLink data center at 900 Keosauqua Way. With the completion of the second-floor buildout, Mainframe Director Siobhan Spain reports that all 180 studios have been leased. The five floors of studios, with more than 100,000 square feet (about two football fields) is billed as the nation’s largest nonprofit creative workspace.


Another 30 artists are on the waiting list.


Ten Mainframe studios are home to local nonprofits, including the Des Moines Arts Festival, Civic Music Association, KFMG 98.9 FM, ArtForce Iowa, and Des Moines Music Coalition.


Next month, 20 Mainframe artists plan to move to larger studios. For example, Ben Millett, a quilting artist with a fourth-floor studio, is moving to a larger space on the second floor. Ben wrapped up a showing of Lokean Variants, seven quilts based on two traditional patterns, at The Slow Down Coffee Co. in Highland Park. Two examples of Ben’s work are shown above.


Spain reports that Mainframe has reached its financially self-sustaining business plan.

 

THE HAMILTON DRAIN: A SHORT COURSE

At the City Council’s Dec. 12 meeting, the panel approved a $7.7 million contract for Phase 3 of the Hamilton Drain Storm Water Improvements. For about 175 Highland Park homeowners in all or part of the FEMA flood zone area, this new storm sewer is a huge and long-awaited investment.


Completion should improve the drainage to affected homes, several which were built atop a wooden culvert, built in the 1930s out of treated wood planks that provided precious little flood protection. “Residents will now have confidence their basements will not back up with sewage,” Ward 2 Council member Linda Westergaard says. “This project is excellent for the neighborhood and the area’s stability.”


This also should help relieve area homeowners’ insurance costs, says Patrick Beane, the City’s clean water program administrator: Beginning in 2026, most homeowners will no longer need to pay flood insurance.


Completion should enable storm sewer flows to be managed by multiple detention basins; several have already completed. The basins are designed to treat stormwater and provide additional green space.


Flows “will travel through backyards and existing alleyways where possible to avoid months of street closures and access issues required with an on-street alignment,” the City’s website describes. “The alignment of storm sewers through backyards will also minimize disruptions to utility services throughout construction."


Phase 3 is scheduled to begin this spring, with completion anticipated by fall 2024. Phase 4 is scheduled to be bid at that time, with completion projected in 2025.


 

A 44th Street home was one of the Invest DSM single-family rehabs completed in 2022.

ANOTHER BIG YEAR FOR INVEST DSM;

NEIGHBORHOOD UPGRADES REACH $22 M IN 3 YEARS

Amber Lynch, Invest DSM executive director, reports a banner year for the young nonprofit primarily funded by the City of Des Moines and Polk County Supervisors.


“We are blown away by the demand for our programs and the interest among residents and property owners in investing where they live”, said Executive Director Amber Lynch. “It is very gratifying to see neighbors connecting with each other and making repairs and upgrades to Des Moines’ older homes and business districts.


“While it’s still early, these numbers indicate that we’re on the right track to achieve what the City of Des Moines and Polk County Supervisors chartered us to do: Strengthen neighborhoods in Des Moines so that they remain vibrant, healthy, thriving places for years to come.”

2022 Highlights

  • Preliminary numbers indicate that in 2022, Invest DSM dollars helped complete 272 projects, representing nearly $14 million of total investment into the four neighborhoods they serve.

  • Of that $14 million, Invest DSM contributed just over $3.15 million, leveraging another $10.8 million of private investment.

  • 95% of the projects completed were with existing homeowners.

  • Signature commercial projects that included funding from Invest DSM: the newly re-opened Varsity Cinema in the Drake neighborhood and the historic renovation of the Euclid Bank Building in Oak Park / Highland Park.

  • Invest DSM also bought, rehabbed, and re-sold five homes to new buyers. Facilitated the redevelopment of three lots with new construction homes, all of which are now sold to new buyers.

Cumulative Investment (2020-2022)

  • Since 2020, Invest DSM grants have supported the completion of over 780 projects improving homes and commercial buildings.

  • Projects represent a total investment of more than $22 million in the four Special Investment Districts.

  • Of that $22 million, Invest DSM contributed $5.8 million, leveraging over $16.7 million of private investment.

  • 96% of all projects completed to date have been with existing homeowners.


 

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