Forbes magazine recently tabbed Des Moines’ downtown core as one of its 15 emerging downtowns. I wish I could say we planned it this way, but hey, every now and then you need a little luck - and we’ll take it.

Bottomline, the downtown core is seeing a flurry of activity that is being recognized on a national level, and its success is vital not only for Des Moines but for the entire metro area. Our panel of experts will look to the future of the downtown core and explore the opportunities and challenges that will be part of the quest for a vibrant metro area. The panelists will offer updates of ongoing projects and future ones, while helping us all see where the opportunities exist.

There likely isn’t one single bullet to ensure continued growth, but the panelists’ responses to my question are keys to downtown’s future. So get your questions ready - we hope you can join us for the event.

- Chris Conetzsky
Editor of the Business Record

What is the most important thing that has to happen in order for the downtown core to see continued growth?

Glenn Lyons
President and CEO, Downtown Community Alliance

“Downtown Des Moines has 80,000 employees, far more than any city of its size in North America. While we can expect to retain these employees and possibly increase this number somewhat, we shouldn’t expect to increase our current percentage of the workforce in the future. Continued growth will largely occur as we increase our residential population and tourist attractions. We have 8,000 people living downtown today. We expect about 700 new multi-residential units to come onstream over the next two years. If we can keep that pace of development, our downtown population could double in 15 years. Another big benefit would accrue from development of a 400-room convention hotel next to the Iowa Events Center. “

Rick Tollakson
President and CEO, Hubbell Realty Co.

“The economic engine behind the Des Moines downtown core is office. At a minimum, we need to maintain this engine and encourage the continued expansion of office occupancy and redevelopment. For strong, diversified growth to occur, we also need considerably more housing. I believe a downtown residential population of around 30,000 people is possible. To achieve this goal we will need a large variety of housing alternatives for downtown. With the continued growth in downtown housing we will see urban retailers seek new opportunities. These retailers will need to see sustained urban growth to consider opening stores in the core.”

Jennifer Cooper
Vice president & manager, Commercial Real Estate, Bankers Trust 

“I believe focus on retail development in the central core is a key to continued growth. Similar to other downtown projects (Principal Riverwalk, Hy-Vee Hall, and the expansion of the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden), Bankers Trust was instrumental in the formation of the Des Moines Redevelopment Corp. It’s a great first step in reducing vacancies and will ultimately help enhance our retail climate. I moved back to Des Moines after college in 1990. Since then, downtown has transformed with a new vibrancy that attracts people. Over the same 23 years, our two retail anchors closed and smaller downtown retailers have suffered. The Walnut Street project is a great first start at bringing retail back to the core.”

Matt Anderson
Assistant city manager, City of Des Moines

“I try not to focus on the physical use of the real estate. To me the key is population. Any use that brings more people downtown will drive further development. Office workers propel retail, restaurant, and housing demand. Business expansion supports residential, restaurant, retail and hotel growth. Residents will encourage retail expansions. Hotel guests will increase restaurant and retail success and new entertainment opportunities will fill hotel rooms. Downtown Des Moines is a small ecosystem where the balance of uses allows all to flourish. If we fall short in any of these areas it’s difficult for the others to prosper.”

Mary O’Keefe
Senior VP and chief marketing officer, Principal Financial Group Inc.

“With the strong momentum in amenities, restaurants and public art that’s been built, we have in place the prerequisites for housing, retail and further development growth downtown. Now we need to: execute to build more housing across the spectrum of price and rental/owned units to catch up with the demand; execute on development around the core amenities (the YMCA block, 7th and Grand, River Hills, etc.); develop the right plan for Walnut Street; and identify the next key projects for the future.”