As plans for the development of a western gateway into downtown Des Moines began to unfold more than 20 years ago, developers, investors and others began to gobble up properties in the area to either raze and rebuild with modern structures or renovate into living spaces. 

The development of the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park, paired with a booming economy and availability of tax credits, accelerated the development of apartments, townhouses and condominiums.

A Des Moines Business Record review of Polk County assessor’s data found that in the past 15 years, about 550 living units have been added in the Western Gateway, roughly bounded by Ninth and 18th streets and High Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway.

More are planned.

Joe Cordaro, president of Jarcor LLC, plans an $8 million historic rehabilitation of the Argonne Apartment Building at 1723 Grand Ave. and its adjoining annex. When completed, the building will have a mix of 45 one-bedroom and studio-sized apartments, many of which will rent for less than $900 a month.

“The whole area is growing, much in part because of the sculpture park,” Cordaro said. “I only see more growth happening – in housing, restaurants.”

It won’t take long before the area northwest of the sculpture park is connected to the Sherman Hill neighborhood, Cordaro said. “I think this whole area will become very walkable.”

To the east of the Argonne is Artisan Row, an owner-occupied townhouse site development by Hubbell Realty Co. in a block bordered by Ingersoll and Grand avenues and 16th and 17th streets. Construction began in early 2014 and the complex’s 27 units were snatched up quickly.

Other housing development has also occurred, including:

  • 14Forty, a three-story building at 1440 Locust St., across from the sculpture park’s western edge. The shuttered building, which had housed Mitchell Transmission, was valued at $386,000 in 2009, Polk County assessor records show. Today, the 103-year-old structure is home to apartments on the top two floors and retail and office on the ground level. The building value has swelled to $4.4 million.
  • Flux Apartments at 1400 Walnut St. The five-story newly constructed complex, which opened in May 2018, includes 90 apartments and ground-level boutique office space. The structure’s top floors have views of the sculpture park. The building’s 2019 value was $10.7 million, according to the Polk County assessor.
  • National Biscuit Co. Flats at 1001 Cherry St., which advertises that it’s within walking and biking distance of the sculpture park. The building, constructed in 1906, was converted to 54 affordable housing units in 1995; in 2008, the building underwent another remodeling. Its value in 2019 was $1.2 million, up more than 300% from its value in 2009 of $386,000, assessor’s information shows.

“There wasn’t much housing in the Western Gateway [before to 2009],” said former Des Moines councilwoman Christine Hensley, who was a key player in raising money for development of the sculpture park. “Now we’re seeing that increase and we’re seeing new construction and rehabilitations [of buildings.]

 “It’s really good to see all that vibrancy and activity.”