Leaders behind the Central Iowa water trails project have raised more than $17 million in private fundraising. 

With the new benchmark, the project, which is expected to cost $117 million, is more than halfway to the private fundraising goal of $33.5 million. In November, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded a $25 million grant to the project, setting up major construction if backers could raise the local match. The leaders needed to cover the balance of the $31.25 million first phase.

Central Iowa Water Trails board members charged the Great Outdoors Foundation, fiscal agent of the project, with reaching the halfway point by the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s Annual Dinner, as the water trails project is a strategic priority in 2020

Of the $17 million raised, $3 million is a donation from Des Moines-based Principal Financial Group. The Central Iowa Water Trails Incubator board also has 100% individual financial commitment. 

“The Central Iowa water trails project will have a profound impact on not just Central Iowa, but the entire state of Iowa,” Dan Houston, chair of the Central Iowa Water Trails Incubator board of directors, said in a statement. “When you look at what sets our state and region apart, it’s our collaboration, people coming together to make big projects happen.” Houston is the chairman, president and CEO of Principal.

Tiffany Tauscheck, corporate funding strategy lead for Central Iowa Water Trails and chief strategy officer for the Greater Des Moines Partnership, said of the project being one of the Partnership’s strategic priorities: “The $17 million is a significant down payment for future success. It’s an investment that helps position our region to compete at a whole new level, continue to cultivate a diverse workforce, attract major events and create buzz that helps further economic development.”

“This project is reaching far and wide, with broad impact on the future of our state. Just like water, this project knows no boundaries. It connects people, the region and the state,” said Kathryn Kunert, vice chair of Central Iowa Water Trails Incubator board of directors and vice president for economic connections and integration at MidAmerican Energy Co. “The collaboration behind this project is phenomenal. By already hitting our midway point to the private fundraising goal, we are confident we will continue to build significant momentum.”

In addition to the $25 million Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant, the first of 86 sites along 155 miles of Central Iowa waterways was completed in Johnston. “It’s powerful to see how far we’ve come in one year and announcing we are over halfway to our private fundraising goal 16 days into 2020,” said Hannah Inman, CEO of the Great Outdoors Foundation. “We couldn’t have done it without the continual collaboration of our consortium members, specifically the Greater Des Moines Partnership, for making Central Iowa Water Trails a strategic priority since 2018.”

The BUILD grant for the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is the first construction money raised and would pay for 80% of the cost of replacing the Scott Street dam with a whitewater course and other paddling areas, as well as improved access to the Des Moines River at Prospect Park, Birdland Park and Harriett Street. The $25 million grant was the maximum available from that program. 

Merrick & Co. has estimated the projects involving the removal of three low-head dams downtown that have been deadly obstacles would end up being an economic boost of $26 million to $32 million by year five of the whitewater courses that would draw thousands of paddlers and onlookers.

The Scott Avenue dam will be replaced with two drops for paddling and improved fish passage, the MPO reported. 

“I have been involved in our community for more than four decades, I have witnessed firsthand several remarkable projects. The Central Iowa water trails initiative stands out far above anything with which I have been privileged to work. It will be transformational and future generations will be thankful that we had the vision to undertake something of this magnitude. I am honored to serve as one of the co-chairs of the campaign," said Suku Radia.  

“Once again, public and private entities have come together to make Des Moines a more exciting and wonderful place to live and work,” said Connie Wimer, honorary co-chair of the campaign and chairman of Business Publications Corp., parent company of the Business Record. 

The Central Iowa Water Trails Consortium is made up of Capital Crossroads, Catch Des Moines, the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Organization, the Greater Des Moines Partnership and the Great Outdoors Foundation. The news was first publicly announced Wednesday night at the Partnership’s annual dinner. 

What’s this all about? Read our recent stories about the water trails project fundraising topping $5 million and the prominent community leaders calling it “the biggest project yet.”