The next big thing in Greater Des Moines could make a big splash, especially if Hubbell Realty Co. President and CEO Rick Tollakson has his way.

Tollakson, whose company is in the throes of significant development projects that could make a figurative big splash, is chairing the Greater Des Moines Water Trails and Greenway Plan, an effort find uses for the roughly 150 miles of creeks and big rivers flowing in around the area.

It's a quality of life thing for Tollakson and his group, and quality of life things are needed to attract and retain workers.

Tollakson joined Gerry Neugent, president and CEO of Knapp Properties Inc., Jackie Johansen, marketing and acquisition specialist for R&R Equity Partners, and Erin Olson-Douglas, urban designer for the city of Des Moines, for the CRE Trends & Issues Forum today in Urbandale.

All four individuals have been involved in some signature projects. Think convention center hotels, apartment communities, large development projects downtown and trend-setting office parks in the suburbs.

No offense intended, but those accomplishments rarely seem to be enough for the large crowds that gather every year for the Business Record event. After their introductory comments, nearly the first question to the panel was, "What's the next big thing coming to Greater Des Moines?" It's the same year after year. Apparently, we're never satisfied, and why should we be?

One of the big things might be no more than a ripple in the big waters of achievements, but it could lead to significant developments in Des Moines at least. That change is a complete rewrite of Des Moines' zoning ordinance.

The changes will come after nearly 18 months of debate, Olson-Douglas said, and they would make it easier to come up with creative ways to find uses for vacant and dilapidated properties.

Tollakson said those infill developments are an issue holding back progress in Des Moines, but it is an issue that will spread to the suburbs.

"Des Moines has to figure this out," he said. "We have a problem. It will hit the rest of the metro over time."

The sunny side of the commercial real estate market dominated the discussion.

Plans for a $137 million federal courthouse in in the Market District area of downtown Des Moines will be a major boost to development, Neugent said.

Johansen focused on the strength of the metro economy and its attraction to investors from out of state who are seeking better returns than those available on the coasts.

She also pointed to opportunities in attracting warehouse and distribution centers to the area, especially if an effort is made locally to address a shortage of truck drivers.