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  1. #1

    Default Just Back from Des Moines

    I returned from a business trip to Des Moines last week and wanted to share some thoughts. First, I drove, I needed to spend a few days in Wichita, KC and an extended period in Des Moines, so with all the cities being on I-35 it worked out perfectly to make it a road trip.

    I can't tell you enough how impressed I was with Des Moines. The city center has an urban vibe that I just don't feel in Oklahoma City. Two other colleagues from OKC met me in Des Moines and both of them were as impressed as me. The downtown, while not having as many tall buildings has many midsize buildings and it is bustling. Lots of business, storefront retail, restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, it was a smaller version of a bustling big city. Why can't Oklahoma City get the same retail? Also, the residential living downtown is way further down the road than OKC. There are numerous loft living options, apartments, condos, etc. Downtown Des Moines is also very clean. Nice city. The western and northern suburbs of West Des Moines, Clive and Urbandale are all booming as well. I visit a lot of cities, but there was a special spark in Des Moines.

    The roads. Oh my. Driving from Oklahoma through Kansas, Missouri and Iowa, the roads rank (from best to worst) Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma. The Kansas highways are a model. In fact, why not just give up and let the Kansas Transportation Dept. handle our highway system? They're that good. But driving on these other state roads made me realize just how bad, no, horrible our state roads are, just pitiful. Somebody should have to answer to this problem. Embarrassing is not too strong a word as I traveled back into Oklahoma on I-35.

    With all that said, I was glad to be back home. I saw where the old Lynn Hickey car dealership has been torn down at May and I-44 and there is a sign for retail development in the way of a shopping center and pad sites. With Lowe's just a few blocks south, I expect to see some decent retail at that intersection soon.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Just Back from Des Moines

    The Kansas roads are great, particulary their portion of I-35. The only bummer is, it is a toll road, and I think the toll is something crazy like 8 or 9 bucks to get all the way from the border to Kansas City...they do do a great job maintaining it though, and the gas stations they built on that highway have always been very well maintained (even though the gas seems to be a little more expensive there...)

  3. Default Re: Just Back from Des Moines

    Take the toll out and then let me see how well they keep it maintained. Last time I checked, our toll roads were fine, but I think toll roads are a screw job. We need to get over our tax fear and just pay a freaking road tax already.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Just Back from Des Moines

    Yeah, I noticed how great the KS roads were this summer while travling them but I do think it's because they are toll that they are so great and maintained so well.

    Sounds like Des Moines is a well kept secret. If our city were as great as you say Des Moines is, we'd be crowing about it far and wide on the national scene.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Just Back from Des Moines

    That's a good way to put it, traxx.

    I was just looking on the Internet and you can get a feel for things at two websites.
    Downtown Des Moines This is an EXCELLENT site. Look at how the rollovers open on the left side.
    Des Moines' Historic East Village

    One thing we all thought was neat was that Downtown, East Village (like Bricktown) and the State Capitol is all together.

    As for the roads, the I-35 toll road is nice, but the rest of the Kansas highway system is really nice too. Sometimes, things like this can tell a story, just look at the two websites for ODOT and KDOT. Night and Day - just like our highways.

    Oklahoma Dept. of Transportation (Basic HTML - looks like it was designed in 1997)

    Kansas Dept. of Transportation (Slick, modern and useful resources. Click on the middle link "Long Range Plan". Talk about good information!)

  6. #6

    Default Re: Just Back from Des Moines

    Yeah, i think a lot of Oklahoma City leaders and developers are too busy patting themselves on the back to realize that there are lot smaller markets that are WAY nicer and more developed. While we have seen some great improvements in amenties and services, time and again it just seems like no real pride is taken in the way they are packaged and presented, while no real long term plans are worked up in development.

    I think this may be why Mid-Town may end up being the jewel of the city. It has had and will have a lot harder go of it, given the difficulties the area presents, but it also seems to have more of an overall vision and direction than even bricktown had when it started or even has today. I kind of thought that this year would be a watershed year and push OKC over the tipping point where we would see real urban life return to the city, but it just seems to keep dragging along without any real spark.

  7. #7

    Default Re: Just Back from Des Moines

    Did anyone click on those downtown housing options in Des Moines? Great building materials, but at prices most people on this board may pay.

    It seems we either have lousy options, like Legacy, or overpriced ones that take years and years to build.

  8. #8

    Default Re: Just Back from Des Moines

    Yep, and not one of them look like the projects, ala Legacy at Arts Summit.

    Downtown Des Moines - I want to live here

    Why can they build reasonably priced housing that looks good and we build expensive housing, some of which OCURA had control over and looks like crap?

    Honestly, I think we have some nice things in the pipeline, but I'm beginning to get skeptical as to whether they'll actually come to be.

  9. #9

    Default Re: Just Back from Des Moines

    BDP and SoonerGuru, I hadn't really taken the time to look at the actual properties. Wow. Those really are nice! The link from BDP, for some weird reason, just went to one property. Here is the link that shows the properties on a downtown map and then you click on the one you want to see.
    Downtown Des Moines - Living Downtown
    I agree 100%. It's one of those "If they can, why can't we" kind of things!

    Here's some individual sites for some of those places - in DES MOINES!@!
    The Kirkwood of Des Moines
    GATEWAY LOFTS - Urban Loft Living in Downtown Des Moines, Iowa
    Hallett Apartments
    Arlington Apartments
    Des Moines Downtown Living (Look at all the options from this place.)

    It almost makes me mad!@!

  10. Default Re: Just Back from Des Moines

    I wish our Highways were mosre aethetically pleasing like in Dallas, where they paint the supporting beams and put stars in the middle.
    why can't we do simple stuff like that???

    I do think the new I-40 will be very nice, but the rest of the state's highways are nothing compared to kansas, or texas.

  11. Default Re: Just Back from Des Moines

    Des Moines does have some nice developments. Omaha is also nice. I'm not worried about OKC though. I think everyone is in agreement that Lower Bricktown fell short of what everyone wanted it to be, but it's only one of MANY districts in the city.

    My friends and I have always viewed Bricktown as a party/hangout spot. We never saw it as a residential/retail district. In that regard, it's doing great. I agree that Midtown is a great area and as of now is my favorite.

    That said, I'm what some people are calling a YPer(25) and I am honestly excited about the development going on in OKC. I think that we will ultimately have one of the most diverse and unique cores in the Southwest/South. We have many areas that are feeling themselves out just as the populace is trying to get a feel for what every given area is supposed to be. That's why everyone I know is so excited about C2S. It will be an area to live, work and shop a la Midtown/Western Ave. etc. Bricktown isn't that....but at least to my friends and I...that's fine.

  12. #12

    Default Re: Just Back from Des Moines

    I bet you anything that Des Moines was one of those cities that never had dozens of blocks leveled for 'urban renewal' in the 60's and 70's.

    It's much easier to bring something back that never really left... I've spent a lot of time in Milwaukee and it definitely fits in that category. Even while people were fleeing for the suburbs they always had a decent amount of housing and retail that stayed.

    OKC has a much bigger obstacle which is filling in huge holes and virtually zero housing until very recently. And once retail leaves, it's darn hard to get it back as we are discovering.

    And the Midtown reference is apt here because the huge percentage of projects are just renovating existing buildings and bringing back what was once already there. That's much easier than replacing a vast amount of vacant lots or junky stuff that has been thrown up in the last few decades.

  13. Default Re: Just Back from Des Moines

    My favorite was West Des Moines. Especially, the shops at Jordan CreekThe Market At Jordan Creek
    Given, this was a very upscale shopping district with tons of eating places. Just to name a few....Cheesecake Factory, Joe's Crab Shack, PF Changs, Red Robins, etc. But I could stay all day at the Costcos and the The Market. The Market was awhole like The Central Market in Dallas, Texas. Everything was so fresh and unique. And the variety was just amazing! Heck, even the Walmart in West Des Moines was very upscale! Something you just wouldn't see around here.

  14. #14

    Default Re: Just Back from Des Moines

    Quote Originally Posted by Architect2010 View Post
    I wish our Highways were mosre aethetically pleasing like in Dallas, where they paint the supporting beams and put stars in the middle.
    why can't we do simple stuff like that???

    I do think the new I-40 will be very nice, but the rest of the state's highways are nothing compared to kansas, or texas.
    I agree architect, but keep in mind our state finally got somewhat smart and is doing it on all new highways. Look at the exchange on I-35 in Moore, you will see the shape of Oklahoma and Scissortail Flycatchers similar to Texas' stars. ODOT has been painting beams, they just paint them dirt brown for some stupid reason instead of a nice blue or I think a hunter green would be better and look nicer and more environmentally friendly and help blend into and enhance the landscape.

  15. #15

    Default Re: Just Back from Des Moines

    Well said Decious.

    Despite Des Moines having more downtown retail and residential options, I'm not worried about OKC either and wouldn't trade it. We have much much more momentum in OKC with large events. All they have is a AAA baseball team, of course we have one too, but we also have Blazers, Yard Dawgs, bigger concerts ala Ford Center, professional womens' football, professional lacrosse, the Oklahoma River and all that is bringing, soon to be NBA team, probably have much more convention business than they do, many more highrises than they do, etc. I think the momentum is in OKC's favor, however as someone said, we cannot overlook what smaller cities are doing that we are not.

  16. Default Re: Just Back from Des Moines

    Quote Originally Posted by metro View Post
    I agree architect, but keep in mind our state finally got somewhat smart and is doing it on all new highways. Look at the exchange on I-35 in Moore, you will see the shape of Oklahoma and Scissortail Flycatchers similar to Texas' stars.
    Also, I believe the new construction along 235 north of 23rd will have some sort of relief sculpture on the walls.

  17. #17

    Default Re: Just Back from Des Moines

    I noticed this topic on Des Moines, and I decided that it might be good if I answered some questions and told you a little bit about the city from an insider's persepective.

    First off, Des Moines is one of the cities that was a victim of urban renewal. If anyone is interested, I can post a satellite photo showing the surface lots we are currently blessed with. Urban renewal was the cause.

    However, we've definitely been working hard to fix those issues. Nearly $2 billion has been invested the downtown in just the last 5-6 years resulting in two Wells Fargo Offices, a new Science Center with IMAX, a $75 million (and growing) Riverwalk, a new arena, and plenty of other amentities. I'm not sure how OKC is attracting downtown construction, but Des Moines has done it through lots of tax breaks and subsidies.

    One of the focuses has been restoring the victims of urban renewal. Restorations/conversions have been place in Court Ave. (entertainmnt district), East Village, and South Dowtown. Also, maybe new construction buildings are modeled after their older counterparts. Des Moines set out with a goal to have 10,000 downtown residents by 2010, and we're at about 8,000 right now.

    New office development has been essential too. Wells Fargo, Wellmark, Allied, and the various facets of government have all built, or are building, large offices. In addition to their additions, the Riverfront YMCA, which solitude may have seen, is likely to be torn down to built a new mixed-use tower (no word yet on height). We were very close to getting a new 18-story hotel, but that did not come through.

    If you have any other questions about what is currently happening in the Skywalk City, please let me know.

  18. #18

    Default Re: Just Back from Des Moines

    Thanks for that input Des Moineser and I'm happy that your city is doing so well. I think most of us like to see other towns do well in the area of new urbanism.

    Was there any time over the last few decades where all retail left your city center? Because that's what happened in Oklahoma City and it's just been crippling in many respect. And until recently, we've had almost zero housing units.

    And we haven't had any new office development since the mid-80's due to high vacancy.

  19. #19

    Default Re: Just Back from Des Moines

    We did, Malibu.

    After the Flood of 1993, the downtown died. Court Ave. was basically shuttered and most of the downtown retail emptied. The whole tihng caused a real shift towards the suburbs. Des Moines had actually been improving up until that point. Most of the high-rises we have today were built in the late 70s-80s, during the Farm Crisis and the balance of power was shifting. It took about a decade after the Flood to really get the momentum going again.

    Part of the problem I think both our cities have is just the image we automatically receive. Iowa is full of dumb hicks and Oklahoma is unedcuated and backwater, according to the stereotypes. Part of the uphill battle of attracting people and business to Des Moines has always been conquering the stereotypes. People worried about living on a farm, getting hit by a tornado, and not having adequete electricity; all these things are typical Coaster-worries.

    It seems, however, that the whole middle-section of this country is really starting to hit its stride, so good things are coming for both of us. In addition, I've heard that Will Roger's World Airport is quite impressive. We're taking forever to get our 1960's terminal up to aesthestic specs, so congrats on the progress you've made in that and other areas.

    Any other questions?

  20. #20

    Default Re: Just Back from Des Moines

    Also, if any of you are interested, try absolutedsm.com, our local development site.

    There you can see renderings/specs/etc. on just about any projects going on up here.

  21. Default Re: Just Back from Des Moines

    Thanks for the wonderful comments Des Moineser. You sound like a very well educated and insightful person who is proud of your city yet also willing to share ideas that might help another (and vice versa).

    Please, welcome to OKCTalk (officially) and definitely chime in whenever you have anything to add (or constructively contribute).
    Oklahoma City, the RENAISSANCE CITY!

  22. Default Re: Just Back from Des Moines

    Quote Originally Posted by Des Moineser View Post
    Any other questions?
    I'm curious how retail survived downtown up until 1993. In most places including OKC, retail left the core with the white flight of the 50s and 60s.

  23. #23

    Default Re: Just Back from Des Moines

    Quote Originally Posted by Des Moineser View Post
    Nearly $2 billion has been invested the downtown in just the last 5-6 years resulting in two Wells Fargo Offices, a new Science Center with IMAX, a $75 million (and growing) Riverwalk, a new arena, and plenty of other amentities. I'm not sure how OKC is attracting downtown construction, but Des Moines has done it through lots of tax breaks and subsidies.


    I have always thought that Okc needs to offer tax breaks and subsidies in order to spur downtown development.

  24. #24

    Default Re: Just Back from Des Moines

    Pre-1993 Flood Retail? I think I was going to get really detailed earlier, and decided against it.

    However, this is really Des Moines' second rebirth. Des moines had a trolley system downtown in the 40s, bustling with ground retail. There are pictures around the interent, I might try to look some up. I'd assume OKC was much the same. The 50s-70s were an awful for the downtown. Crime was high, there were abandoned factories, there was no money, no real hope. Crime was so bad that a man and his family who fixing up a building DT then were shot by some person living in a nearby alley. Anyway, the 1970s and 1980s brought a opportunity to us that I don't believe OKC had. The Farm Crisis ravaged the Midwest, with land values plummeting, people leaving, jobs being cut, etc.

    During this bleak era is when the all but 2 of our 300+ fters were built. The Ruan and Financial Centers (Ruan is the 33-story brown one, Financial Center is the 25-story white one) were built as spec office space. They attracted some of the rural flight into Des Moines, and more investment followed. In fact, the only tall building that began constuction outside of the 70's-80's was the sleek silver EMC building, next to Financial. Des Moines became a financial services hub for the world, and the city rapidly grew, some much so that it was during this period that Des Moines became the largest city in the state. It had been the Quad Cities before that. They were a manufacturing town, they lost big. Downtown retail was mainly supported by people just visting the downtown, as we had VERY few residents in DTDM as compared with today.

    The Floods wiped out a lot of the retail that was being supported by the new interest in the downtown. After the waters subsided, we regained the tilte of Dead Moines. This time, we have strengthened the retail base by putting the consumers within walking distant of ethnic foods, clubs, and other more general stores. It's helped to cure the 5 O'clock sidewalk rollup, and stores and restaurants are starting to stay open later.

    I'm guessing OKC didn't get smacked nearly as hard by the Farm Crisis. I'm not certain of your economic demographics, but our economy grew because it invested in services. It was really a strange choice, as services are a shaky base for economy really, but we made it work. Governors Ray and Branstad both gave big tax breaks to financial firms, and we attracted the jobs and residents that are helping us today.

    Today, the city is using the tax breaks instead, as our past two governors don't much care for business or tax cuts. We have a Vision Iowa program which has a sliding scale for state investment depending on the number/pay/type of jobs a company will create, and this program does work across the state. We have biofuels tax breaks, historic renovation breaks, and large companies can often land city/county subsidies. While I'm not sure how OKC is attracting business, I can guarentee tax breaks will make a HUGE difference.

    As far as subruban retail, DON'T let your city put all your reatil in one basket. You may have heard of the super-regional mall called The Jordan Creek Town Center. While it has attracted dozens of new stores, a Joe's, P.F. Chang's, etc., it has really wiped out a lot of the retail activity in the rest of the westside of the city, stretching almost to the downtown. It has generated billions, but it'll take us several years to regain the retail in other areas.

  25. #25

    Default Re: Just Back from Des Moines

    Quote Originally Posted by metro View Post
    Well said Decious.

    Despite Des Moines having more downtown retail and residential options, I'm not worried about OKC either and wouldn't trade it. We have much much more momentum in OKC with large events. All they have is a AAA baseball team, of course we have one too, but we also have Blazers, Yard Dawgs, bigger concerts ala Ford Center, professional womens' football, professional lacrosse, the Oklahoma River and all that is bringing, soon to be NBA team, probably have much more convention business than they do, many more highrises than they do, etc. I think the momentum is in OKC's favor, however as someone said, we cannot overlook what smaller cities are doing that we are not.

    And OKC hosted the Big 12 basketball tournaments which was definitely fun...

    But you're looking a bit short-sighted related to Des Moines minor league teams. There is an AHL team (Iowa Stars) and an NBA-D League team (Iowa Energy) playing downtown at the new Wells Fargo Arena. Each of these franchises are considered Triple-A in their respective sport.

    Also Des Moines has teams of lesser stature in the Menace which is minor league soccer and the Barnstormers which is Arena Football League 2.

    Des Moines is also hosting the 2008 NCAA Division I Track & Field meet, which we are very excited about.

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