Published February 1, 2017 by the Business Record

Capital Crossroads 2.0’s five-year blueprint for Central Iowa emerged Wednesday night at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden.

If you think the area could use better housing options, a new downtown sports stadium, an indoor soccer venue, better skywalk access, improved mobility and a higher education needs assessment that could include the debate over a downtown university campus, you’ll like what you see. The report includes calls for local option sales taxes, a more regional airport authority, improved mass transit, and a hub for refugee and immigrant entrepreneurs, along with water trails, a new airport terminal, a regional council of governments and remodeling of Drake Stadium to help lure the Olympic trials.

There is even talk of a food distribution “port” with green roofs, urban gardens, year-round farmers markets and training academies. And of using Capital Crossroads as a vehicle to work on water quality, wellness, diversity, inclusion, equity, civility and housing.

“We don’t have all the answers today,” but these are among areas that will be emphasized, Kristi Knous, president of Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, said in an interview.

Jay Byers, CEO of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, said in an interview that the “transformational projects” in the plan include the airport terminal, the removal of the downtown dams and installation of a water trail, the overhaul of Water Works Park — like “Gray’s Lake on steroids,” Byers said — and the transload facility planned in southeast Des Moines to shift freight from trucks to trains.

An indoor athletic complex would help bring in large indoor soccer tournaments and other events. There also is talk of a “maker space” to help support manufacturing entrepreneurship — something Byers wants to work on after the new agriculture tech accelerator graduates its first class this year.

The Capital Crossroads plan, developed by a 63-member board of diverse local leaders, consultants Market Street and Capital Crossroads Executive Director Bethany Wilcoxon, teamed up lead partners Bravo Greater Des Moines, Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, Greater Des Moines Partnership, Iowa State University, Prairie Meadows and United Way of Central Iowa.

The plan resulted from a freshening up of the initial Capital Crossroads effort — which cataloged close to 400 successes around the community — with work that included 12 focus groups, two town halls, 20 interviews and 3,000 survey responses.

Polk County Supervisor Angela Connolly said the Capital Crossroads effort has made it easier to cooperate on projects such as setting up watershed authorities, the Walnut Street makeover and skywalk overhauls, and DART Central Station. “We had so many plans on the shelf,” but now various efforts are under one umbrella, she added.

She looks forward to the new-era version of Des Moines Water Works Park, improving transportation options between Ames and Des Moines, improved mental health services and the continued success of the Cultivation Corridor, Central Iowa’s answer to the Research Triangle. She considers the improvements in Polk County parks, financed in part by a voter-approved bond, “amazing.”

Byers said Cultivation Corridor will remain a big win, as will the new downtown YMCA and the coming convention hotel. He isn’t sure if there will be a Capital Crossroads 3.0, but the regional planning will continue in some form.

Connolly, Byers and Knous served as tri-chairs of this round of Capital Crossroads work.

“The impact was getting leaders around the table,” Knous said.

Surprisingly, Knous found, a top “lost opportunity” expressed by many in the effort was the failure to properly connect Ames and Des Moines with transportation and joint economic development efforts — but many are working on that now, Knous said. Cultivation Corridor is a key, she added.

Another key message: Something needs to be done about water quality, Knous said. That issue was much hotter in the second round of planning.

Byers said Capital Crossroads is about keeping a broad-based effort with regional buy-in, that looks beyond political boundaries.

Some of the projects look to bring new action, in the area of mental health or considering the removal of downtown dams to make way for paddlers, for example. Others are in reaction to other developments.

“A big priority will be developing a new pedestrian connection between Gray’s Station and Gray’s Lake,” Byers said. Hubbell Realty Co. just announced plans for a 1,100-unit, $250 million neighborhood planned by Hubbell Realty on 75 acres south of Martin Luther King Parkway downtown.