Published February 1, 2017 by the Des Moines Register

Central Iowa leaders laid out a new vision for the region Wednesday with the launch of Capital Crossroads 2.0 — a blueprint for improving everything from local neighborhoods to community health.

It’s been five years since Capital Crossroads was first launched. In that time, nearly 700 volunteers have worked to identify and implement projects in central Iowa.

The three Capital Crossroads chairs — Polk County Supervisor Angela Connolly, Greater Des Moines Partnership CEO Jay Byers, and Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines President Kristi Knous — sat down with Des Moines Register reporters and editors last week to highlight successes from version 1.0 and look ahead to the next five years.

Some of the successes they discussed include:

  • The opening of DART’s Central Station, 620 Cherry St., and revitalization efforts underway along Walnut Street downtown;
  • Voter approval of the $50 million Polk County Water and Land Legacy Bond to fund water quality, park and recreation projects;
  • Plans for a $10 million nature center scheduled to open in 2018 at Jester Park;
  • Corporate expansions that have contributed at least 380 new jobs in central Iowa.

“We really don’t put much on the shelf,” Connolly said. “We’re (an active) community and I think that’s why Capital Crossroads 1.0 is so successful and why the next one is going to be very successful.”

The new plan focuses on five main issues facing central Iowa:

  • Increasing access to affordable housing;
  • Optimizing and educating central Iowa’s workforce;
  • Providing access to mental health prevention and treatment;
  • Improving the region’s public transit network;
  • Advocating for water quality and recreation.

Even though the ideas set out in the 124-page Capital Crossroads 2.0 vision plan are far from a certainty, having a vision for the future helps local communities set priorities and ultimately drive funding, Knous said.

Downtown sports stadium

Input from the public and business leaders show a desire for a sports stadium downtown, possibly south of Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway. The plan calls for a study to determine its viability, plus an analysis of construction costs and possible franchise agreements. Central Iowa has yet to meet population requirements — about 1 to 2 million residents — to support a professional league, but the stadium could be shared by Des Moines Public Schools for Friday night football or the Des Moines Menace soccer team.

“I think there’s a lot of us out there that think there’s a lot of potential” for a stadium, Byers said.

Additional studies will look at ways to refurbish the 92-year-old Drake Stadium to Olympic standards with the goal of hosting the U.S. Olympic Trials in track and field, and an indoor sports complex to attract large youth sports tournaments.

River recreation downtown and beyond

A “hallmark” of Capital Crossroads 2.0 is an aggressive push for recreation along the Des Moines River downtown through the removal of low-head dams and shoreline improvements, Byers said. The proposed Port of Des Moines, a multi-purpose ferry boat terminal and dock at the Principal Riverwalk Hub, could jump-start more riverfront development, including water transit, dining and mixed-use developments. Leaders will build on the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Greater Des Moines Water Trails and Greenways Plan that envisions a 150-mile network of waterways with boat launches, wading areas, business hubs and fishing areas.

Knous said a leadership giving circle at the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines issued a challenge grant that encourages donations from other organizations in an effort to make the downtown piece a reality.

“I haven’t seen a group of people so excited about something,” she said.

Bring variety housing, workforce downtown

Leaders want to study how to create diverse employment opportunities downtown, as well as find ways to attract new retail and dining opportunities on Walnut Street and beyond.

To support downtown workers, leaders hope to encourage development of a variety of housing options — from townhomes to duplexes and live-work units.

Capital Crossroads Director Bethany Wilcoxon said studies show there’s a shortage of mid-level priced housing in Des Moines’ urban center. This so-called missing middle housing is attractive to millennials and baby boomers who are looking to decrease their footprint and live in more walkable communities. Encouraging missing middle housing with help create the right population mix downtown, rather than focus solely on young professionals, she said.

More than 2,300 apartments schedule to open in downtown Des Moines before the end of summer 2017. Several factors are driving the boom.

Encourage women, immigrant entrepreneurship

A physical and programmatic hub for immigrant and refugee entrepreneurship would include resources such as business plan advising, government licensing and permit requirements, financial education and networking. Having a centrally located hub would help the non-native population thrive and bring diverse small businesses to the community, Wilcoxon said.

“We look at a lot of the newcomers to our community who were maybe small business owners in their home country. Here, they’re maybe working in a service sector job,” she said. “So there’s that great mismatch of skills and what they’re doing.”

Similarly, programming geared toward women entrepreneurs could be expanded in central Iowa by building on the successes of Ascent Iowa, an organization that supports women-owned businesses, and Iowa Women Lead Change, which hosts business pitch events in the area.

Grow small businesses, increase talent

The vision plan encourages startup accelerators, incubators and co-working spaces that help local entrepreneurs and inventors launch businesses in central Iowa. Area 515, a nonprofit community of makers, artists and hobbyist, could evolve into a more robust center for invention and creation, K-12 education and adult learning. The shared workspace at 1731 Grand Ave. offers tools like 3D printers, laser cutters, jigsaws and studio space for people looking to develop their craft.

Capital Crossroads wants to build up central Iowa’s workforce by encouraging lifelong learning and creating a code academy. Its goal: 75 percent of central Iowa adults will have high-quality degree or other certificate, and 10,000 more adults will have obtained their GED by 2025.

Advocate for mental health and wellness

Mental health was not part of Capital Crossroads’ initial focus, but will be a main component over the next five years, Wilcoxon said. A fully developed plan is not ready, but leaders know they want to advocate for a comprehensive approach to mental health prevention and treatment. An advocacy campaign to remove the stigma around mental health is planned, as well as marketing central Iowa’s existing resources.

Leaders hope to partner with businesses to find ways to foster workers’ social and emotional well-being and partner with Broadlawns Medical Center to expand its mental health services capacity.

About Capital Crossroads

Capital Crossroads is a collaborative effort between the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Greater Des Moines Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Greater Des Moines Partnership, Prairie Meadows and the United Way of Central Iowa. It centers around 10 areas of planning, including regional governance, natural and physical capital and business expansion. They build on studies and ideas already in progress in the region. Cities are not required to follow the projects laid out in Capital Crossroads, but are encouraged to use it as a guide.