What’s the next big thing happening downtown? The people most likely to have the inside scoop on that question have a hard time narrowing it down to one thing. But based on a panel discussion last month hosted by the Des Moines Downtown, South and East Side, and West Side chambers of commerce, here are five things to watch for.

Downtown prognosticators:
Chris Coleman, at-large city councilman for Des Moines
Jake Christensen, developer with Christensen Development
Glenn Lyons, president and CEO of the Downtown Community Alliance
Angela Connolly, Polk County supervisor
Matt Anderson, Des Moines assistant city manager

East Village as a model
Right now, about a third of the trendy shopping area is developed, but Glenn Lyons of the Downtown Community Alliance expects it to become known for more than just businesses like Zombie Burger + Drink Lab and Raygun. Lyons believes the East Village will fill in and become what he called a “complete urban neighborhood,” meaning that the undeveloped areas such as parking lots eventually will be developed.  In doing so, East Village has the potential to become a model for neighborhood development. “It will be one of the coolest neighborhoods in North America,” Lyons said. 

Western Gateway will continue to fill in
City Councilman Chris Coleman sees development continuing in the gateway, especially on the south side around the Des Moines Social Club and Exile Brewing Co. Lyons said to expect more apartments in the gateway, pushed by employees working at Kum & Go LC’s planned headquarters, in addition to the existing Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield workers. Supervisor Angela Connolly pointed out that a proposed bus rapid transit line that would cover Ingersoll and Grand avenues could push even more development in the Western Gateway.

Plans for Walnut Street improvements delayed a year
The massive fire to the Younkers building in March will affect the proposed transformation of Walnut Street from a bus transit mall to an engaging pedestrian destination. “All that’s really done is delayed us a year. So we’re not changing the plan. ... Now we’re just hitting the pause button, ” said Assistant City Manager Matt Anderson. The fire and what eventually happens to the Younkers site might change which parts of Walnut Street are developed first.  Phase one originally was planned for Fifth Avenue through Eighth Street, but that could get moved to the east, or development overall could be more scattered.

Housing new opportunities
River Hills Business Park area just north of the East Village presents the opportunity for a unique mix of apartments and townhouses. Principal Financial Group Inc. is attempting to sell its office buildings and warehouse buildings there, so use of the area could change. Developer Jake Christensen said that area could become a feeder or sub-neighborhood to the East Village, and Coleman pointed out its proximity to Carver Community School, which could make it an attractive location for families. Anderson said Principal is already talking with a developer about that site. 

The glamour of infrastructure
Connolly is a fan of economic development, and while she notes that discussion of infrastructure may not be glamorous, it is necessary. Officials will have to focus money toward maintenance of infrastructure, especially roads. “Nobody wants to talk about that, of course, but really that’s the next big thing that we’ve got to figure out,” Connolly said “How are we going to pay for all those things we want to maintain?” Also important to note, Anderson said, the city is spending a quarter of a billion dollars to separate sanitary sewers and storm sewers in the area.