What will the revitalized Walnut Street look like?

It will have several urban gardens, art projected onto buildings, retail shops and parallel parking spots that wrap the street.

Brian Clark, a senior principal with landscaping architecture firm Confluence, presented the new look for downtown's core during a public meeting and open house Wednesday at the downtown public library. During the 15-minute presentation, Clark laid out key elements he said are needed for a successful transformation: making sure the street is pedestrian-oriented; ensuring ample parking for cars and bicycles; having retail shops and restaurants; adding urban gardens; and celebrating the arts.

Currently the street is just a connector, linking the Western Gateway to the Court Avenue district. It needs to be a destination, Clark said.  

The preliminary concepts, put together by Confluence and Genus, suggest adding an urban playground on Fifth Avenue, a garden on Fourth Street and green space on Seventh Street by Wells Fargo Bank. The plan also calls for light artwork projected onto the old J.C. Penney Building and Davis Brown Tower as well as in the open space under the skywalks to give Walnut Street more character.

To make the street more pedestrian friendly, planners want easier access between the street and skywalk, a bike share program and parking along the street, and up to 120 parking spots right outside of shops for easy access, Clark said.

Bringing in more retailers is one of the most important elements of the plan. Walnut Street used to be the center of commerce, Clark said, before suburban malls and the public transit mall drove retailers from the site. Walnut Street has 100,000 square feet of available first floor retail space and the capacity for more.

The Downtown Community Alliance (DCA) brought in retail consultant Robert Gibbs in January, who told business owners and city officials that Des Moines has the potential to attract an additional 45 shops and restaurants. 

"There is a bigger retail opportunity than we originally thought," said Glenn Lyons, the group's president and CEO. "But right now it's just potential."  

Lyons said the DCA recently hired Gibbs to develop a marketing strategy to bring in big name retail outlets. "There are a lot of large, cool stores that haven't come to Iowa," Lyons said, giving examples like Swedish retailers H&M and women's apparel store Anthropologie. 

"Chances are they will only build one store in the state, we need to get that one store here."

The final open house detailing Walnut Street's transformation will take place on April 30 and leaders hope to submit plans to the city by early May. If all goes according to plan, construction is slated to begin in early 2014.