Submitted by Rick Tollakson, Hallie Still-Caris and Jake Christensen

Picture this: You pick up a guest from the Des Moines International Airport. Maybe this person has never been to Greater Des Moines. Maybe you are trying to recruit them here for an employment opportunity, or to establish a stronger business relationship or even consummate an investment opportunity. On the way to downtown, you tell them about the recent momentum of the region: strong population growth, national recognition as a place poised for continued success following the pandemic, our ability to draw major national events, and promises to visit the must-see amenities follow.

As you travel past the Wakonda Golf Club, home of the Principal Charity Classic, you continue past Gray’s Lake and the Kruidenier Trail pedestrian bridge, past the 1,500-acre Water Works Park and the new Lauridsen Amphitheater. You turn right onto Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway and the impressive skyline comes into view. But then, like so many times before, the conversation turns to the abandoned, dilapidated Dico Superfund site to the south.

It's the front door to our downtown. And instead of a vibrant entrance, our front door is missing its welcome mat -- that pop of color and sense of vibrancy that sets us apart from other Midwest cities.  

Bottom line: First impressions matter.

Now picture the difference as you see the top of a professional soccer stadium come into view. The activity of downtown residents, employees and visitors experiencing the vivacity of the neighborhood’s restaurants, bars, coffee shops and events. The proposed Pro Iowa Soccer Stadium and Global Plaza will give our downtown, our Greater Des Moines region and our state a welcoming front door, bringing the infectious vibrancy of a global sport and greeting everyone who chooses Greater Des Moines as a destination to visit or live.

American Equity Investment Life Insurance Co. has pictured it, recently announcing a $5 million contribution to this vision, as has the Iowa Economic Development Authority, which recently announced a $23.5 million award. The project’s efforts will pave the way for a USL Championship league team to make a home in Greater Des Moines. The USL Championship league is the second-highest level of professional soccer in the country, and our region will join 31 major metros across the country, including Nashville, Louisville and Charlotte, in having a team in the league. This project provides a solution to not only clean up a Superfund site that has been an eyesore for decades, but to enhance our state as a more inclusive and welcoming state.

It is the right project at the right time to finally transform this site.

This project is also a major remaining piece of the puzzle to connect so many amenities in and around downtown. This space can be used to expand festival footprints beyond the Western Gateway, John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park and Historic Court District bridges. It will connect downtown regulars to recreational opportunities including the ICON, Iowa Confluence Water Trails (formerly Central Iowa Water Trails) access point planned along the Raccoon River, 500+ miles of bike trails via the Meredith Trail across the Chris and Marcie Coleman Bridge to Water Works Park and Gray’s Lake Park.

This project is more than just a USL Championship Soccer stadium; it will add development to the western gateway to our downtown. It will provide yet another reason for people to live in downtown in neighborhoods such as Gray’s Station, the neighboring 75-acre community that will have more than 1,000 residents when complete. Employees from surrounding businesses will be able to enjoy this amenity and benefit from the added development it brings.

The Pro Iowa Soccer Stadium and Global Plaza and surrounding development will add to the draw of our region for prospective residents, students, investors, employers and visitors. It will add a sense of place and pride and serve as a space to celebrate diversity and welcome people of all backgrounds.

In order for our community, region and state to be successful, we have to do more to attract people to our community. The Pro Iowa Soccer Stadium and Global Plaza are one of those significant impact projects. No one project will be the single solution, but this will elevate our community to a higher level and into a similar level that you see other Championship league cities operating at across the nation. We must keep growing to offset the uphill battle we have for population growth and a larger much needed workforce.

Our community, our region and our state are ready to tackle the population and workforce challenges we now face. We do not back down from challenges, but create opportunities from them. This is one such opportunity. It has taken time, effort, collaboration and serious investment, but this project is absolutely achievable, and now is the time to make it happen. “We can do this!”

Rick Tollakson is president and CEO of Hubbell Realty Co. and past co-chair of the Greater Des Moines Partnership's downtown Des Moines board. Hallie Still-Caris is a shareholder with the Nyemaster Goode law firm and co-chair of the Greater Des Moines Partnership's downtown Des Moines board. Jake Christensen is president of Christensen Development and co-chair of the Greater Des Moines Partnership's downtown Des Moines board.