Group breathes life into East Bank
A massive, abandoned grain elevator on Des Moines' east side may one day be adorned with colorful murals and surrounded by a public park.
That's just one part of an ambitious vision to revitalize land east of the state Capitol building.
Those behind the new Viva East Bank coalition are laying the groundwork to create an eastern gateway district in downtown Des Moines.
Their goal is to capture the momentum of the Western Gateway business district on the opposite end of downtown while maintaining the distinct cultural identity of the Capitol East neighborhood, one of the oldest and most diverse communities in the city.
"We want to see this area grow and develop and get as involved as we can," Jeff Peck said.
He opened Performance Nutrition Plus, 1552 E. Grand Ave., to embrace this type of community development effort. The business recently hosted an open house to unveil design plans for the area developed by Iowa State University Design Lab students.
Viva East Bank is an umbrella organization for three east-side neighborhoods: Capitol East, Capitol Park and Martin Luther King Jr. Park. The group is led by city planners, community development groups like the Community Housing Initiative, and neighborhood advocates who are partnering with residents and businesses.
"We want all three of these neighborhoods to be safe and stable for the residents who are here and we want them to be attractive to new residents," said Amber Lynch, a city neighborhood planner.
Lynch has taken on the role of project manager for Viva East Bank. The group is just getting started on what will be at least a five-year process to revitalize the area.
"Change definitely takes time," Lynch said.
The group will focus on a few key areas:
•Housing, both new and refurbished properties
•Local business support
Designs presented at the open house focused on the Capitol East neighborhood, which is immediately east of the Capitol grounds and defined by many Hispanic businesses. Proposed features include a community garden space and artistic icons in high-traffic areas and points of interest, such as turning the massive B.F. Mill elevator into a canvas for art. Design Lab students propose projecting images or painting large murals on the looming silos. The land around the grain elevators could be converted into a park.
"We're trying to make this a unique process integrating art into the community itself," said Emily Boyd, the neighborhood engagement coordinator with Community Housing Initiative.
"We're starting with small projects and we're going to move into bigger things when funding is secured."
Local businessman Jack Leachman said the effort lays out a game plan for a struggling area that's shown progress in recent years.
"I get my oil changed across the street and my car fixed around the corner. I'd buy all my clothes here, too, if that was an option," said Leachman, vice president and sales manager with Leachman Lumber.
His family has been committed to the neighborhood since his grandfather started the lumber company along Hubbell Avenue in 1921. And they don't plan on leaving any time soon.
"It's a nice area and I like where it's headed," Leachman said.