Rob Orton, who founded what has become one of Greater Des Moines' largest home building companies in 2010, has a contract to buy 70 acres of land that sprawls across the the southern reaches of River Point West in downtown Des Moines.

The land, owned by Norfolk Southern Railroad, is the single largest development parcel in River Point West and the central business district.

"We are under negotiation right now to pretty much change the scenery of what's going on downtown," Orton said. "We want to do something that is going to make a major change."

CBRE|Hubbell Commercial's Ryan Jensen said efforts have been underway for the past year to acquire the property and come up with a development plan that will definitely include housing, but Orton has a more grandiose vision than simply providing a place for people to live.

"He thinks big," Jensen said of Orton, a native of England who married an Iowa girl and moved to Greater Des Moines in 2006. He worked for several years with home builder Steve Grubb before launching Orton Homes.

The city of Des Moines still wants a vibrant urban village in the area, said Rita Conner, an economic development coordinator with the city. She said the city is in the very early stages of working out a development agreement for the property, which is being marketed by Iowa Realty Commercial.

Orton's background is in commercial development. He worked for one of London's largest commercial brokerages, then started his own real estate business before moving to Iowa.

In addition to ranking among the top five home builders in Greater Des Moines, Orton also is developing 10 acres of land at 142nd Street and Hickman Road, where a CVS Pharmacy will be built.

In addition to meeting with the city of Des Moines' economic development team, Orton has met with the Greater Des Moines Partnership and its Downtown Community Alliance to gauge potential uses for the property and to find out what those groups believe are the missing pieces for downtown development.

The area could become a destination, with entertainment venues and other commercial uses, in addition to providing housing.

"We would like to see some public interest. ... It could help decide the direction this goes," Jensen said.

The deal, for an as-yet-undisclosed amount, could close by June 1.


Orton's project also could complement future restoration and development of the former Dico Manufacturing plant, which is immediately west of the Norfolk Southern land on the east bank of the Raccoon River, Jensen said.



Minneapolis-based Sherman Associates Inc., the firm that entered the initial development agreement with the city in 2007 for River Point West, is busy hauling dirt for the eventual extension of Tuttle Street and preparing for the start of construction of a Holiday Inn Express and 72,000-square-foot office building, both on the northern secton of the development area along Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway.

In addition, it has presented preliminary plans for multifamily construction in the area, including along Tuttle. 


Sherman recently received a $3 million federal grant for the construction of a 90-unit apartment complex.