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Let's Catch Up: March 2021

Updated: Mar 19, 2021



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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