Let's Catch Up: March 2021

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 p