A view of the newly opened Home2 Suites by Hilton and retail space in the 2600 block of University Avenue. Photo by Kathy A. Bolten
A view of the newly opened Home2 Suites by Hilton and retail space in the 2600 block of University Avenue. Photo by Kathy A. Bolten
The hospitality industry has been among the hardest hit during the pandemic.
Yet that didn’t dissuade a development group from moving forward with opening a 124-room Home2 Suites by Hilton at 2650 University Ave.
“As a developer and owner, we’re playing the long game,” said Alexander Grgurich, director of development and chief operating officer with Nelson Construction & Development. “We saw the potential in the Drake Neighborhood pre-pandemic and we believe, post-pandemic, its potential will get even better.”
The $27.6 million hotel and retail project directly south of Drake University is among several developments – or redevelopments – underway in the neighborhood. Nelson Construction is building an apartment building with ground-level commercial just east of the hotel. Lutheran Church of Hope bought the church building at 2500 University Ave. and this fall opened Hope-Elim on the site. In July, the restaurant group Full Court Press opened Lucky Horse Beer & Burgers in a renovated building at 2331 University Ave. In May, a nonprofit arts group announced plans to buy and reopen the now-closed Varsity Theater at 1207 25th St. Other projects, including a stadium planned by the Des Moines school district, are also in the works.
Several years ago, Drake University began to buy property around its campus at 25th Street and University Avenue as a way to control development. About four years ago, the university started taking steps to redevelop the property, beginning with parcels along the south side of University at 26th Street. University officials asked developers to submit proposals for the 2.7 acres that had had surface parking lots and houses that Drake rented to students. Nelson Construction’s proposal for a hotel, restaurant, retail and apartments was selected.
The new suites hotel, managed by Illinois-based First Hospitality, opened in mid-November.
“There’s a whole lot fewer travelers these days, and getting your fair share is a difficult challenge in existing hotels,” said David Duncan, First Hospitality’s president and CEO. “Getting your fair share in a [new] hotel is also challenging. But the job is somewhat easier for us because of the quality of this project.”
Grgurich said Hilton Hotels and Resorts allowed Nelson Construction to modify the Home2 Suites design so that ground-level retail space could be included along University Avenue. Two of the retail spaces have been leased, including a sit-down restaurant and Fernando’s Mexican Grill/Hummus Mediterranean Grill, which recently opened. The development group is working with other potential tenants as well, Grgurich said.
The Hilton group also allowed the new hotel to use artwork from local artists to display throughout the five-story structure.
“The artwork is very much local to not just Drake but to the neighborhood,” Grgurich said.
Each of the suites includes a microwave, full-sized refrigerator, dishwasher, dish service and silverware. Other amenities include an indoor saline pool and outdoor patio space with firepit and gas grills. The hotel opened with about 15 staff members, about 10 fewer than originally planned.
Renee Nash, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing, said she’s been working to attract guests to the hotel.
Potential guests “love new. We’re close to downtown and there’s a lot going on in the Drake neighborhood,” Nash said. “I think once we get into spring and summer, we’ll see our rooms fill up.”

Restaurants open in new hotel in Drake neighborhood
In late 2019, Khaled Abdalla began negotiating with Nelson Construction & Development to move into street-level retail space at the new Home2 Suites by Hilton at 2650 University Ave. Not long after reaching an agreement with Nelson Construction, the pandemic hit.
“It was a challenging time, for sure,” said Abdalla, who owns and operates Fernando’s Mexican Grill and Hummus Mediterranean Grill restaurants in the Des Moines area. In December, he moved his Mexican grill out of space farther east on University Avenue and opened a combination restaurant in the new retail space at the hotel property.
Abdalla said he thought about waiting until spring to open but he had already built a customer base at his previous location and he wanted to keep his employees working.
He said the new space was designed with more than 6 feet of space between tables. “We did that before social distancing,” Abdalla said. “People don’t like to sit all over each other. They want some space.”