Plans for a new Latino center in Greater Des Moines are starting to take shape, and this time around, leaders say it will stick.

The center, which is one initiative of the Capital Crossroad’s long-term vision plan, aims to help Central Iowa’s more than 38,000 Latinos connect with one another and the community at large, said the Rev. Barb Dinnen, chair of the Latino center steering committee.

Dinnen said the center’s purpose is not only to act as a cultural center but to connect Latinos with community organizations that can provide educational and financial resources as well as leadership and mentorship development opportunities.

“The Latino population is the largest growing population in Iowa,” Dinnen said. “But they are not connected to the Greater Des Moines community.”

Dinnen is also a member of the Latino Forum, a group of 40 Latino leaders and activists that is the driving force behind the project. The group believes the center is needed for a wide range of reasons, including to provide a place to “develop and empower Latino leadership,” to “foster community pride, to “deliver current social services efficiently” and as a “central access point for information.”

But this isn’t the first time the Latino community has attempted to get a center up and running.

In the 1980s, Des Moines area Latinos worked together to build the United Mexican American Community Center. However, that has since morphed into a preschool, helping low-income and immigrant Latino children. Then, in the mid-2000s, the HOLA Center was formed. But that establishment closed in 2011 due to lack of funding.





“This time around, we are taking this project on as a collaborative effort from the Greater Des Moines community and the Latino community,” Dinnen said.

Joe Enriquez Henry, state director of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), said this version of the community center will also be more self-sustaining, with available retail and business space.

Henry said no businesses have been secured yet, but he foresees business opportunities for insurance brokers, legal aid providers, a day care center and possibly even a sports facility that houses a soccer field.

“There will also be community rooms and meeting rooms,” he said. “It will probably be around 30,000 square feet.”

RDG Planning & Design is wrapping up a feasibility study to get a better handle on the community’s needs and to gauge interest and available resources, including potential properties that could be converted into a center or locations where one could be built. The firm will present its findings during a public forum Saturday.

Latino businesses and community members contributed and raised $35,000 to fund the study. Several corporate sponsors, including the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, DuPont Pioneer, Bankers Trust Co., Polk County, Principal Financial Group Inc., and Veridian Credit Union, also provided financial support.

The study will also give area leaders a better idea of the center’s cost, which will allow them to decide on a completion date. “I would imagine we are still a year or two out,” Henry said. “It’s all based upon dollars. How much money will it take to either build a new building or convert an old building?”