Construction of the nearly 300,000-square-foot MidAmerican Energy Company RecPlex at 6500 Grand Ave. in West Des Moines is expected to be completed by mid-fall. Currently, only some minor work on interior finishes in the fieldhouse must be completed. Photo by Duane Tinkey
Construction of the nearly 300,000-square-foot MidAmerican Energy Company RecPlex at 6500 Grand Ave. in West Des Moines is expected to be completed by mid-fall. Currently, only some minor work on interior finishes in the fieldhouse must be completed. Photo by Duane Tinkey

The idea Ryan Opp pitched to West Des Moines city officials in the late summer of 2017 was a bit unconventional, particularly for Iowa: Build a city-operated facility to serve the burgeoning youth hockey industry.

Opp, whose children are involved with competitive hockey, was familiar with facilities in other communities.

“They all had amazing facilities,” said Opp, a medical company sales director. “An indoor recreational center – it’s something Des Moines didn’t have and I thought it would be such a great amenity and quality of life addition to the area.”

Opp, with friend Jeff Stanbrough, met with West Des Moines City Manager Tom Hadden and Deputy City Manager Jamie Letzring in a meeting that was cordial – but not promising.  

“I’m sure Jamie and I kind of rolled our eyes and said, ‘You know, guys, it sounds good,’” Hadden said. “But it wasn’t anything that was on our radar.”

Opp and Stanbrough persisted. They suggested expanding a facility to include an indoor artificial turf field for soccer; then they suggested adding hardwood courts for basketball and volleyball. They talked with MidAmerican Energy Co. officials who in 2018 agreed to donate $5 million to the proposed indoor sports complex. A consultant was hired to conduct a feasibility study. Financing options were reviewed.

“I think the fact that there was a lot of community support for something like this and some very large donations, all of that helped move this forward,” Opp said. “All of the numbers we looked at, all of the research we did, showed that we could fill this facility and make it very self-sustaining financially.”

In December 2019, construction began on the MidAmerican Energy Company RecPlex, located at 6500 Grand Ave. The nearly $60 million project is being paid for with money from both the public and private sectors.

Construction is expected to be fully completed by mid- to late October. The facility’s full-sized, outdoor artificial turfs began being used last March. Two recently completed ice arenas are in use. In addition, the esports center and community rooms are operational and available to rent. The 150,000-square-foot fieldhouse, which includes hardwood courts and an indoor field, will be completed by mid-fall.

To date, the facility’s staff hasn’t had to make calls to persuade groups to book space, said Shayne Ratcliff, the RecPlex’s general manager.

“We’re literally just fielding requests and trying to plug everyone in,” he said. “We have a waiting list for the hardwood courts. We have a waiting list on the turf. The ice has already been sold out.

“We’ve been very, very fortunate that everything is coming together.”

The youth sports industry is a fast-growing market in the U.S. In 2017, the market generated $15.3 billion in revenue, according to New York-based Statista Inc., a data and marketing firm. Two years later, the youth sports market had grown 25% to $19.2 billion.

By comparison, the National Football League in 2019 generated $15.26 billion in revenue, according to Statista.

That and other similar data helped persuade West Des Moines city officials to move forward with the development.

“The interest from the different groups – soccer, basketball, hockey – just kept growing, especially the indoor aspect of it,” Hadden said. “To be able to have all of that under one roof and to be able to play your sport year-round, … it’s just a unique facility that is going to be hard to find anywhere else.”

Numerous communities across the country have recreation facilities with just ice rinks, hardwood courts, artificial fields or swimming pools. Few have two of the amenities under one roof, and it’s rare to find a facility with three or more of the features, particularly the size of West Des Moines’ RecPlex, said Ratcliff, who previously was manager of the Lakeville Arenas, located south of Minneapolis. 

A few, though, do exist.

The Village of Pleasant Prairie, Wis., located along Lake Michigan between Milwaukee and Chicago, operates a 302,000-square-foot RecPlex that it describes as the “largest municipal recreation center in the country.” The facility includes eight full-sized hardwood basketball courts, an indoor water park, a four-lane lap swimming pool, an Olympic-sized pool, a fitness center, racquetball courts and two NHL-sized hockey rinks. 

What most recreation facilities don’t have, however, is a 3,500-square-foot esports center that is large enough to host gaming tournaments but also can be used by athletic competition participants (and their families) between games or matches. West Des Moines’ center includes 30 PCs and six consoles including two virtual reality centers. Students from Grand View University helped design the room.

“We can run rec programs where people can come here to learn how to code or learn to use Photoshop,” Ratcliff said. “A lot of corporations are starting to do virtual scavenger hunts. They can rent this space and do the outing here. …

“This is a way to reach a demographic that you typically wouldn’t reach with other sports.”

The RecPlex is located in an area of West Des Moines that is just starting to develop.

Des Moines Area Community College opened its West Campus at 5959 Grand Ave. in October 2001. Little else was built in the area for over a decade. Wright Service Corp., parent company of Wright Tree Service, started construction of its corporate headquarters in 2020 at 5930 Grand Ave. Construction of Des Moines University’s new campus at 8025 Grand Ave. began in the spring and is expected to be completed by 2023. A two-story office building is under construction at 5754 Raccoon River Drive, just east of DMACC.

Interest is building in developing more projects along the corridor, Hadden said.

“There’s a good chance a hotel will go somewhere along Grand [Avenue] and a restaurant or two,” he said. “When people go to tournaments at the RecPlex, they are going to want to stay close by and go to other things close by in between games.”

Opp predicted the recreational facility will be an economic boost not only for West Des Moines, but all of Central Iowa.

“This facility will be able to be used virtually every single minute of every day,” Opp said. “There won’t be any concerns about rain or snow or the heat. People from all over Iowa – all over the U.S. even – are going to come here, stay in the hotels and eat at restaurants, and all of that is going to stimulate the economy.”

The facility’s design and its financing package are a template for other communities, Opp said. 

Nearly everything inside the facility is rentable space, Ratcliff said. Community rooms can be rented by the hour or day. Fees are charged to use the PCs in the esports center. Six hundred pairs of ice skates will be available for the public to rent and wear on the ice. Fees will be charged for people who drop in to play basketball or pickleball. 

The RecPlex “is so much more than I ever imagined,” Opp said. “It’s a state-of-the-art, top-of-the-line facility. … I don’t think you can look back and say, ‘They could have done this or that better.’ It’s one of those things you don’t have any regrets about.”