Des Moines council praises water trails and seeks to protect promised neighborhood projects


On Monday, Des Moines city council members praised the multi-million dollar downtown waterway projects, but said the city must keep its promises to neighborhoods while seeking l ‘money.

Council members in a working session Monday morning discussed an initial $ 32 million project in Des Moines that is part of a $ 117 million regional plan to create kayaking trails, fishing grounds, and better access for canoeing and birding in central Iowa.

The final cost to the city depends on how many facilities the council thinks the city should help build along the river, City Manager Scott Sanders said. There is talk of parking lots, washrooms, locker rooms and canoe rental shops, but many of the improvements could be made over the next 20 to 25 years, council members said.

Sanders said the city will own and maintain many of these facilities, although a nonprofit may own and maintain the elaborate whitewater stream that would replace the Center Street Dam.

Funders have raised more than $ 17 million for the water trails project.The federal government approved a $ 25 million grant for early work that would include facilities at Prospect Park, Birdland Park and Harriett Street, in addition to replacing the Scott Avenue dam with a series of kayaking falls.

The dam on Center Street would be replaced as part of the larger project. Since the turn of the last century, at least 18 deaths have been recorded at dams on Center Street and Scott Avenue after paddlers or boaters passed them and got caught in the tumultuous waters below.

The Des Moines Metropolitan Planning Organization, Capital Crossroads and the nonprofit Central Iowa Water Trails incubator are coordinating the work.

City Councilor Joe Gatto and other council members said they wanted to make sure the water trails project – which isn’t in the city’s most recent capital improvement plans – doesn’t affect not neighborhood improvements. The city promised some plans before residents approved a local sales tax that generated $ 38.1 million in the first year. The coronavirus pandemic is expected to reduce that income for some time.

“I think it’s a big project. I think that is a game changer, ”said Gatto. “But we have to look at what’s in our budget as the city of Des Moines, what we promised the neighborhoods that we’re going to put back into the neighborhoods and that wasn’t part of it. This year alone we have significantly reduced our (capital improvement budget) of the things we promised our residents.

“So it’s hard for me to stand on top of the mountains and scream that it’s going to happen,” Gatto said.

Gatto said early discussions centered on the city paying $ 20 to 25 million for improvements over 20 years and maybe $ 2 million a year for maintenance.

Sanders said he was concerned that the $ 500,000 per year that the city had considered spending on related work would be depleted by this first batch of projects. Sanders said the city’s parks department was analyzing planned spending.

Maggie McLelland, project manager for the Great Outdoors Foundation, which leads private fundraising, saidthe city’s share of the costs will largely depend on what the city council decides to build for the facilities.

City Councilor Linda Westergaard asked about plans to teach novice paddlers about safety. “The river is king and I’m afraid people will throw themselves into the river and understand what their challenges are,” Westergaard said.

McLelland said project funders are developing plans for signs and educational materials in multiple languages.

Westergaard added that city staff must continue to ask neighborhoods for comment on the plans. Several, including Union Park across from planned improvements to the Birdland Park marina, would be affected.

“I don’t know if Union Park has had any discussions on this plan and what it’s going to do for the neighborhoods,” Westergaard said. “All these water trails, I think they’re great. But they’re going to affect neighborhoods more than they’ll affect anyone else.

City Councilor Josh Mandelbaum saidthe city can easily stage projects to address Gatto and Westergaard’s concerns about the neighborhoods he shares.

“I think it’s a big project, and I think we should be working to help solve the problems and figure out how we can get things done,” Mandelbaum said.

“I think we’ll need full bathrooms eventually, but I don’t think we need to put them in just yet,” and they could wait until the dam on Center Street is replaced with a stream. long live, said Mandelbaum.

“I think we need to address the whole gamut of investment, operation and maintenance as part of this process. But I don’t think we need to say it all has to be done up front, especially if they have any questions about how this might change if the next phase of fundraising isn’t over, ” Mandelbaum added.

The consultants said that by the fifth year, water trails in central Iowa would provide an annual economic boost of $ 26 million to $ 32 million.

Sanders said the city should have a better idea of ​​its costs in a few weeks.

Find this story To Iowa Capital Shipment, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news offices supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c (3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor-in-Chief Kathie Obradovich with any questions: [email protected]

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