We Believe in the Future of Downtown DSM
“I said ‘Someone should do something about that.’”
You may have heard this famous quote from the actress Lily Tomlin. This quote has stuck with me through much of my career. Because if you know the second part of the quote, it epitomizes what we do in this community.
“Then I realized I am somebody.”
Throughout the last several decades, and throughout the uncertainty created by the pandemic, countless leaders in Greater Des Moines (DSM) have stepped up to be the “somebodies” that we needed. The somebodies who pushed forward major initiatives that transformed our community, and the somebodies who continued to invest in projects such as the Lauridsen Skatepark, Iowa Confluence (ICON) Water Trails and the Pro Iowa Soccer Stadium and Global Plaza.
We have long identified that having a strong downtown is a key to a strong region. Downtown DSM’s growth over the last two decades has been mirrored by growth in metrics such as population and gross domestic product across the DSM region. As a result, we are outperforming other major Midwest metros in the percentage of growth in those areas, and have been recognized as a great place to live and work by countless publications.
We are currently undergoing the process to take on the Downtown DSM: Future Forward Vision Plan and Action Plan. For one element of the plan, we have worked with Bâton Global and Reworc to complete a separate but related study on the Downtown DSM workforce. To our knowledge, this is the first such study done for a specific community. We are still working to analyze the full results and will share them in the coming weeks. In the meantime I had a chance to share some high-level results as a panelist during the Business Record’s Power Breakfast on the future of Downtown DSM on Feb. 17.
Here are some takeaways that I had as I prepared for this discussion.
The Future is Bright
We heard from employers throughout last year and early this year that they have a high level of optimism about the future of downtown. By July of 2021, our foot traffic in Downtown DSM had returned above pre-pandemic levels. We anticipate those numbers represent a combination of factors. More workers returned to the office. A number of downtown activations and events took place such as the Downtown Farmers’ Market, Out to Lunch, Chalk the Park, outdoor activities such as the Iowa Cubs, in addition to a vibrant restaurant and retail scene. Although we have seen some dip in recent months as the virus continued to cause uncertainty, in the first six weeks of 2022 Downtown DSM foot traffic was at 90% of pre-pandemic levels. This leads us to believe foot traffic will return and surpass pre-pandemic levels in the near future.
Cultural Activities Draw People Downtown
One early finding of the workforce trends study as it relates to the Downtown DSM workforce is that cultural events and socialization opportunities are key drivers of how people use downtown. Another finding: Of people who have been working from home due to the pandemic, one of the things they miss the most is socialization. As we think about drawing people downtown, and specifically drawing back employees who have gotten used to working from home, a key question is how can employers find ways to make it a positive experience to come into the office? How can we create opportunities for socialization? How can we create FOMO (fear of missing out)? Already we are hearing some outside the box ideas for this, and it will require a willingness to think differently.
Onsite is the New Offsite
Similar to the point above, one phrase we have heard through this research is that “onsite is the new offsite.” Meaning, we need to create workspaces that are a destination that people want to experience. Maybe we set up collaboration opportunities during the afternoon and encourage employees to partake in a cultural or restaurant activity downtown before going home. Again, this will require thinking outside the box.
This is an Exciting Time for Downtown DSM
We know downtown will not likely be the same downtown we knew pre-pandemic, but we have the opportunity right now to create the future together. We are re-imagining and re-designing Downtown DSM. How exciting! Downtown is everyone’s downtown, no matter where you live or work within the region. It will take all of us to ensure a strong future. From talking with so many business, organizational and community leaders and from talking to fellow panelists and attendees at the Power Breakfast, I know so many people care about Downtown DSM and believe in its future.
Downtown is special because the people of this region make it special. Our community is different because we proactively plan and execute plans to address our challenges head -on. We are doing that now.
Together, let’s be the somebodies to make Downtown DSM the downtown we want it to be.
Recently ranked a top five metro for number of economic development projects among metros with a population of 200,000 to 1 million, growth continues in and around Downtown Des Moines (DSM) in part thanks to unique public-private partnerships that allow community leaders to work together to invest in, grow and improve the city center. Learn more about other recent development projects in Downtown DSM.