Important now: Sports complexes are healthy economic generators that beget riches for their surrounding areas. They are also a point of pride for the community while facilitating the competitive spirit and comradery of all sports lovers.
Being stuck in Covid pause has not curbed the momentum behind a bonanza of sports complexes Des Moines is building for its sports-crazed residents and visitors. Whether the penchant is for professional or amateur soccer, ice hockey, skateboarding or white-water rafting, fans will see their fantasies play out more notably than ever imagined. The new sports centers are of world class caliber and breaking ground all over the downtown area.
Pro Soccer Stadium
Take for instance the development of a new professional soccer stadium on part of a 43-acre contaminated plot of land that was designated a superfund site by the EPA in 1983. The property is in a desired location in the south-central part of downtown but has sat vacant for over 25 years as lawsuits paralyzed development of any kind.
Dico, Inc., the former owner of the property, manufactured steel wheels and formulated chemicals and pesticides at the site. Now, with lawsuits settled and ownership eventually transferring to the city, a reinvestment district is in the making with developer Krause Group leading the charge.
Krause recently acquired a 90% stake in the Italian soccer team Parma Calcio and joined the USL Championship league (division II professional men’s soccer league). The next step was to provide a home stadium for the team.
The developer had already acquired 18 acres of land adjacent to the Dico site in 2019 intending to expand onto the property if it ever became available. Now that vision is becoming a reality. The settlements and new ownership have freed up more developable land providing an opportunity to expand the downtown area which is also an important objective for Krause.
The 6,300-seat professional soccer stadium will be built in partnership with the Iowa Soccer Development Foundation at an estimated cost of $75 million.
“Our goal is to develop a stadium in an urban setting where someone could get a cup of coffee just as quickly as they could a ticket to a game,” says Danny Heggen, commercial real estate development manager for the Krause Group. “There are very limited options for activating a superfund site, with a stadium being one of those options.”
The stadium will be the centerpiece of an outdoor entertainment complex which is being built in conjunction with a much broader redevelopment of the surrounding area. Those plans include hotels, housing, commercial spaces and entertainment districts. The entire venture is expected to encompass 29 separate development projects totaling $535 million.
Krause wanted the stadium to be downtown knowing reinvestment was crucial for the area but options for six collective acres for the stadium was limited. “The southwestern area of downtown was optimal due to our ability to develop the surrounding district,” notes Heggen.
“Not only do we need this for gameday but we need this for Monday to Friday, 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. We need this for nights and weekends. We need this for the new housing units and jobs and retail shopping that will bring people to the area. We need this for the Central Iowa Water Trails project,” explains Heggen. (See details of the water trails below).
The complete build-out of the site is expected to take 12 to 15 years and will generate an estimated $190 million in new revenue to the city over 20 years.
Public Schools’ Community Stadium
Just a few miles up the road the seedlings for another new stadium are germinating. Located at Drake University this stadium is designed for soccer and football and is the result of a melding of the minds between the university and the Des Moines Public Schools (DMPS).
Over the past decade the DMPS has explored the prospect of building a community centralized stadium, a model adopted at many other urban school districts across the country. The project proved cost prohibitive for DMPS.
“One of those Aha! moments happened when DMPS and Drake became aware of our simultaneous need,” says Ryan Arnold, director of community engagement for Drake University. “We had the need to build a competition stadium for our division 1 men’s and women’s soccer programs and they had a need to build a centralize community stadium for football and soccer.”
The 4,000-seat stadium will be owned by DMPS but located at Drake University which donated the land estimated to be worth $2.5 million. The DMPS Community Stadium at Drake University is estimated to cost $19.5 million to build, with $15 million being funded by sales tax revenue and the other $4.5 invested by Drake, who will operate the facility. That arrangement is a significant cost savings for DMPS’ operations budget.
When it opens in the fall of 2022, the community stadium will be a point of pride, says Arnold. “It will provide students with an atmosphere they currently do not have for their competition events and they get to do so in close proximity of a university with a reputation of excellence. It will help students imagine themselves completing a post-secondary education and opening up what that means for themselves, their families and their future.”
Ice Hockey Arena
Once spectators have their fill of soccer, they could hop over to the new ice hockey arena being built in an old Younkers department store at the Merle Hay Mall just a few miles from Drake University. The new 3,500-seat multi-use arena will serve as the new home for the Des Moines Buccaneers, a junior hockey franchise.
An existing Kohl’s site will be redeveloped as three additional sheets of ice and a training center. While the arena and additional space is designed for hockey use it will be able to accommodate medium-sized music and performance acts. Estimated costs for the conversion are $128 million.
The Merle Hay mall opened in 1959 and is the oldest regional shopping center in Iowa. Until recently, the mall was anchored by four main tenants: Sears, Target, Younkers, and Kohl’s. Within 45 days of each other, Sears and Younkers closed after 59 years of operation.
But new efforts are ushering in a revitalization of the mall and surrounding areas. The existing Sears building will be redeveloped as a new location for Kohl’s, a new hotel is being built, new retail opportunities abound, and potentially two housing projects will boost area traffic. Additionally, the ice arena is expected to be a regional draw to the Des Moines area since the next closest complex of its size is located in Blaine, MN, about 260 miles away.
Another project offering concrete benefits as well as 88,000 square feet of the cement type is the Lauridsen Skatepark opening on May 22, considered the largest open skatepark in the nation. The park offers the perfect convoluted surfaces for skaters to indulge in alley-oops, casperflips, aciddrops and many other spine-chilling tricks of the action sport.
The skatepark is of Olympic caliber and will host amateur through world-class professional events. It features a 38-foot-wide promenade as well as several unique characteristics exciting even to pro skaters, including a skateable art piece shaped in the letters WOW.
“With all of the other great events we host in our community we knew we could do this right,” says Angela Connolly, Polk County Supervisor. “This will become an economic boom.”
The park is free to all skaters, but revenues will come from the many competitions the park will host as well as the associated boon of increased tourism. Youth clinics and professional demonstrations will be held as well, boosting the visibility and buzz about the park.
“I’m so proud of our community for making this park become a reality,” says Connolly. “It doesn’t require kids to join a club, you don’t to pay to get access and there is not a one-time cost other than a skateboard and helmet.”
So far funding for the Lauridsen skatepark has come from a $500,000 state grant and a $1 million donation by the foundation of the same name. The remainder of the $6.1 million budget is coming from organizations and companies who are avid supporters of kids being outside and away from video games, TVs and electronic devices.
Skateparks are growing in popularity currently at about 3,500 throughout the country, according to the Skatepark Project, a nonprofit founded by renown skater Tony Hawkins. The organization contends that more cities need to include them in their communities. Many that have them point out that skateparks have decreased crime rates, increased tourism, and decreased damage to personal and public property.
For the skeptics, here is what the mayor of Carbondale, Colorado says about his city’s 13,300-square-foot skatepark. “The immediate response to our park was overwhelming. Both the youth of our town, and visitors alike bombard our new park each and every day. This is a huge economic boost for our town. Never underestimate the draw that a skatepark will have in your city.”
White Water Trails
With the limited number of activities available during Covid, the number of people on park trails in Des Moines tripled within the Polk County Conservation Park, according to Connolly. “Through our Conservation we have a lot of parks and trails. More people are on our trails no matter what the weather is. They are anxious to be outside because it was all you could really do during Covid.”
The city is banking on that sustained outdoor interest with a major effort to create white water trails within a 150-mile stretch of river to not only reawaken the community’s river roots but attract white water rafting aficionados from around the world.
So far, a $25 million build grant and matching private funding has been raised for the Central Iowa Water Trails project and ultimately is expected to be a major boost for Central Iowa.
According to initial studies conducted by the city, the trails are expected to create more than 150 full-time jobs and generate over $100 million in total direct spending over the first five years.
The first handful of what will be 88 access points opened last year (two in the downtown area) but the overall initiative, including eight different restoration projects, is expected to be completed over the next few years.
“A big piece of this project is about improving water quality,” notes Connolly. “We want to make sure while we invest in the water trails, we also establish water quality as an important part of it.”
The aspirations of Des Moines are in the right place. Whether it is in the water, on the soccer field, on concrete or on the ice, improving the quality of life for downtown residents as well as those from surrounding regions appears to be an overriding goal for the city.
For more information contact Al Setka at: AMSetka@dmgov.org