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Big Plans are Coming Together to Revitalize Douglas Avenue

Douglas Avenue Corridor in DSM USA

December 7, 2017

If you’ve grown up in Greater Des Moines (DSM) like I have, then you’ve certainly gone shopping in Merle Hay Mall or been bowling at Plaza Lanes with the iconic neon bowler on the roof. These two establishments book-end what once was a thriving destination for shopping, dining and recreation on the northwest side of Des Moines. However, this three-mile stretch of Douglas Avenue has seen little upgrades or redevelopment since the 1960’s to keep the corridor current and relevant for today’s needs. As you drive down the corridor today you will see outdated buildings, several of them vacant or rotating through businesses every few months. You’ll find traffic speeding along wide roadways while other areas feel cramped. Walking along Douglas feels treacherous due to narrow sidewalks that are very close to the speeding traffic. Attempting to cross the road can be hazardous for pedestrians.

Enter the Douglas Avenue Coalition. This non-profit organization was formed to re-imagine and re-energize Douglas Avenue from the Merle Hay Road intersection east to the Des Moines River. The concept of this coalition began in February of 2015 when members of the Lower Beaver Neighborhood Association decided to act on a neighborhood plan that outlined much-needed improvements to the business corridor. Since then, our coalition has been largely focused on spreading the word about our efforts to gain more traction. Our Coalition steadily expands as more interested residents, business and property owners, commercial developers, and city, county, and state officials rally behind our effort.

Partnering with RDG Planning and Design

A recent and major accomplishment of the Coalition was the City of Des Moines’ approval of our request to begin a corridor plan. With the help of a $25,000 grant from Polk County to jump start the project, the City approved the hiring of RDG Planning and Design to create a master corridor plan for Douglas Avenue. RDG is a local firm that will combine public engagement, economic and market analysis, and innovative urban design concepts to complete the plan. At the end of this six-to-eight-month process, we will have a plan that involves streetscape improvements, recommendations for private property improvements and conceptual site plans for major commercial nodes along the corridor. The plan will also include cost estimates and phasing to help us incrementally implement parts of the plan and seek federal, state and local funding opportunities to fund each phase.

Our first public kick-off meeting with RDG was a huge success. Held in the VIP room of Plaza Lanes, the meeting featured a short opening presentation to introduce the public to the process that lies ahead. Afterwards, everyone visited various stations that represented different aspects of consideration for the plan. These stations offered opportunities to ask questions and share ideas and concerns within a small group setting. The public participation was impressive with over 100 people in attendance and standing room only for the opening presentation. This is an uncharacteristically large crowd for a first public meeting and shows the desire of our community to engage in the process and see positives changes. We are optimistic about our success moving forward with such a large community commitment. 

Public Feedback

So, what’s next? If you have opinions on Douglas Avenue but missed our public kick-off meeting, you can still provide feedback through our online survey. In December, you can stop in anytime during a two-day open house and share your opinions on designs and ideas that RDG staff have created. Designers will be on-site during this unique design studio to continuously draw up new ideas based on public feedback. This is an important opportunity for our community to share what they like or dislike before the plan really begins to take shape. The open house runs from 5pm to 7pm on both Tuesday, December 12th and Wednesday, December 13th in the VIP room of Plaza Lanes on Douglas Avenue.

The Douglas Avenue Coalition has been over two-years in the making and we are thrilled to be where we are today in the planning process. The corridor plan is expected to be completed in May of 2018 and that’s when we will really ramp up our efforts and take on the implementation strategies for the first phase outlined in the plan. This isn’t an effort that will see results overnight; but rather we are committed to seeing this through to completion over a span of many years. Together, we are excited about the potential that lies ahead for the Douglas Avenue corridor in DSM. 

 Douglas Avenue Corridor in DSM USA

Brian O'Leary

Brian O'Leary was a catalyst in the formation of the Douglas Avenue Coalition. As a member of the Lower Beaver Neighborhood's Neighborhood Revitalization Planning Committee and Board of Directors, Brian took over the LBNA's business relations committee and spearheaded its expansion into the Douglas Avenue Coalition (DAC).