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Cover Story

Future so bright


Ask anyone who’s been around long enough, and he or she will tell you, downtown Des Moines has changed. It’s grown in population but also in diversity of its offerings, entrepreneurship, aesthetics and innovation. In the past 12 years, it’s drawn more than $3 billion of public and private investments, according to city manager Rick Clark, spawning attractive public spaces, such as Principal Riverwalk, Pappajohn Sculpture Park, the Botanical Gardens, Cowles Commons (which is still under construction) and the new YMCA (under construction in 2014).

In 2014 and beyond, Clark said we can look forward to seeing that trend progress all the more.

“The next decade in downtown will be very exciting,” Clark said.

We asked the city manager and others for their predictions and goals — both professionally and personally — heading into the New Year.


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RICK CLARK: A city that’s ever improving

As Des Moines city manager, Rick Clark’s challenges are infinite. But he loves his job — so much, in fact, after eight years of doing it, it’s become his life. So his personal goal for 2014 is the same year after year — and every day: “to make things better for the people and community,” he said.

Rick Clark“I want the city government and the community it serves to be better, stronger and more resilient than when I began working here many years ago,” he said.

So far so good, even despite what has been perhaps the most financially challenging period in the city’s history. In order to make ends meet, annual operating expenses have been reduced by $28 million, and more than 300 jobs have been eliminated, Clark reminded. Meantime, operating revenues have been increasing at about one-half the annual rate of the city’s operating expenses, which results over time in increasing budgetary shortfalls. Yet Des Moines’ budgets have been balanced every year.

“We continue to receive high marks for financial management, and our fund balances are at their highest level in 10 years. So I’m proud of that, and I’d like to see that trend continue.”

He credits the city council for recently creating a City Development Office along with a Development Board that he expects will help raise private funds for city projects, such as new hotels, the downtown YMCA, Principal Financial Group’s office reinvestment, more housing, a rebuild of Seventh and Grand parking garage, Riverpoint development and the reconstruction of Walnut Street — all projects that will be taking shape in 2014.

In lieu of all that, Clark has also set the goal of diversifying revenues in order to reduce the city’s reliance on property tax. As neighborhoods are poised for growth, so are public service centers.

“We are improving operating efficiencies by constructing work places that better fit our current organizational needs,” he explained.

A new main fire station and a fire training and logistics facility opened last year. And the municipal service center, which is now under construction, will eventually house Parks, Public Works, engineering and fleet operations, “and create opportunities for service consolidation with other governmental units,” Clark said.                

Things to do differently

Consolidating and merging more with other units of local government, including suburban communities, the school district, county government and state government, is better for all, Clark said, “although it is a very tough thing to do.”

Technology is likely the answer, he said. New state-of-the-art software could efficiently manage all of the city’s data needs and is a focus Clark said he’d like to narrow. Ongoing IT investments have been and will continue to be essential.                 

Personal goals

“From a personal perspective, my goal for the year is to exercise more, and do the things necessary to lead a healthy and active life. So, for the New Year, I’m going to focus on exercise as much as possible. And I’m going to try hard to pay attention to what’s most important and not the distractions that often consume our time and energy.”

 – Rick Clark



J.C. WILSON: More of the same

As Clark mentioned, Des Moines is ever-growing and always enhancing its neighborhoods and its offerings. One testament to that claim is the East Village. It’s become a shopping, dining and entertaining district that offers enough to cater to all. And J.C. Wilson, owner of the House of Bricks and The Rooftop, has seen the streets and buildings around his corner venue blossom over time.

The East Village continues to lure eclectic entrepreneurship. It’s a hub of Mom-and-Pop shops and a breeder of new ideas seen into fruition. Take Wooly’s, for example, which Wilson said is easily one of the Des Moines music scene’s greatest new treasures that only complements the neighborhood and the House of Bricks.

JC Wilson“I’d like to see entertainment in the East Village continue to grow, and I think it will, especially with Woolys and that Up/Down little syndicate, that’s a welcome addition,” Wilson said. “More of the same would be fine with me.”

While Woolys got down by taking over The Underground bar and transforming into a complementing bar/arcade, Up/Down, the House of Bricks got up, adding The Rooftop dining and bar above the concert hall.

“The House of Bricks will be staying on the same kind of programming, but what’s new with us is the Rooftop, which had a great season last year, and we look for to another great season,” Wilson said. “You know we love live music programming, and we make a point to be diverse so all genres are included, even comedy and poetry. We feel it’s a nice destination for that reason, so the main floor will stay the same.

Though Wilson would like to see “more of the same,” at his establishment, 2014 will have a higher regard for the food menu with a focus on The Rooftop restaurant.

“If we’re working around here, it’s the booking and typical operations, but if we’re polishing or changing, it’s the food angle with lunches and a small amount of catering,” he said            

Things to do differently

While the nightlife scene in the East Village is practically on par with the illustrious Court Avenue district, Wilson would like to entice more “day-walkers,” he said.

 “There are a lot less places for lease around her than there were a year ago, but we want to get those day-walkers in for a lunch crowd,” he said. “That’s what we’re going for now, because it’s a great experience I want everyone to have.”

–J.D Wilson


JUDY A. BRADSHAW: Building improvements

While protecting and serving the community and its people, the Des Moines Police Department has seen its share of growth and progress in other areas, too. Chief Judy Bradshaw couldn’t be more pleased with what’s been going on.

Judy Bradshaw“We have some very significant building improvements that are currently underway that I hope to complete in 2014,” she said.

The department located in the East Village is getting a new evidence storage facility, which is near completion, Bradshaw said. It will provide 5,400 more square feet to allow the storage of CSI (crime scene investigation) equipment and provide more storage for evidence that is currently housed off-site in private storage units.

Next she said she’d like to see a complete remodel of the jail cells that have been removed from the second floor of the building, and convert the space into a forensic lab for processing evidence. 

“It is an important, significant project that will modernize and advance our forensic capabilities,” she said. “We have grant money available to equip our new lab that will go a long way in allowing us to process evidence necessary to clear cases and secure criminal convictions.”                

Things to do differently

The police garage needs to go, Bradshaw said.

“It has served many purposes in its life, and it looks like something from a military MASH unit,” she said. 

Once it’s removed, parking capabilities around the building could be enhanced and aesthetically-pleasing landscape berms and new fencing would improve the look of the PD’s “small footprint in the East Village,” she said.

Personal goals

“My personal goal is to enjoy the moment. My life has been a virtual sprint from assignment to assignment, project to project, issue to issue. I am looking to moderate my pace and simplify my life, make it less complicated.”

–  Chief Judy Bradshaw


LOLO JONES: Go for gold

For local heroine Lolo Jones, who has a long resume as a champion sprinter and hurdler that stems from records she set at Roosevelt High School, the date Jan. 20 is a make or break for her in 2014. The two-time Olympic hurdler for the U.S. has golden dreams, this time with the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation Women’s USA Team. Her team swept the podium at the 2013 IBSF World Cup on Dec. 7, in Park City, Utah, where Jones tied for second.Lolo Jones

But that doesn’t lock Jones in for the 2014 Winter Olympics. The U.S. will have to qualify three sleds in order for her to have her shot.

“Obviously, I’d like to make the Olympic team and win a gold medal in the bobsled at Sochi,” she said in an interview while in Des Moines last month. (She now lives in Baton Rouge, La.)

Olympic qualification is determined by world rankings on Jan. 20. Then, Jones must be one of the top three U.S. brakemen in a strong field of six, according to USA Today. Needless to say, her fingers are crossed.

Personal goals

“I’m really just starting to enjoy my life. Who knows? Maybe I’ll meet the guy I’m going to marry this year!”

– Lolo Jones


R.J. TURSI: More beer

Anyone who hangs out in Des Moines long enough will learn of the city’s thick Italian roots. The Tursi’s family proves just how deep those roots dig and — with the 2012 opening of Exile Brewing Company — how far they reach. Founder of longtime east-side restaurant, Latin King, Bob Tursi now watches his son, R.J., strike out with a business of his own near the Western Gateway neighborhood. His focus? Beer.

After getting organized and settling a food menu on the restaurant side of the business, this year’s focus is on brewery expansion, according to R.J. Starting in January, Exile is increasing its bottling line and expanding its tank capacity. With about 10 different seasonals to work with, he plans to sift through the experimentals of last year and make choices for enhancement.

“We’ll be inventive and see what we can do with different lager styles,” he said. “Overall, I’d like to increase the focus on satisfying a wider range of customers with all kinds of tastes. We’ll do our best to respond to consumers and come up with different styles to suit what they’re looking for and make sure we do it our way.”

Things to do differently

R.J. TursiDon’t get the Tursis started on the subject of the historic tax credit that was used to transform the Exile building into its current form. Though it promises to be a great way to finance a project like Exile, the program has cryptic fine-print legislated caveats largely dictated by corporations, Tursi said.

“So in the end, you’re taking a hair cut from them, your taking a hair cut from the lawyers, your paying the accountants, all to deal with these laws,” he lamented. “All these people have to work to ensure your relationship is beneficial to you as well as the corporation, and that’s because of the way the laws are written. At the end of the day, after taking hair cuts and dealing with all the laws surrounding the way things need to be done, all you’re left with is about the same cost it would have taken to do the project without the credits, and it’s a huge headache.

Most importantly, R.J. said he hopes to see entrepreneurship continue to grow and thrive in Iowa and the State of Iowa doing everything it can to “make that as easy as possible.”

Personal goals

“When this project started out, I had a lot of hobbies before we really got deep into Exile. I enjoyed running quite a bit, and I did triathlons. I think I’ll have time for more personal stuff. I hope to get back into my old habits, maybe run triathlons again… I’d say I plan to spend more time with family, but that’s not true. I spend so much time with them every day. I consult with my dad daily, and my mom, whether I want her to or not, is always coaching me on ways to improve. That’s just kind of our style.”

R.J. Tursi


RUDY SIMMS: Dwindle down injustice

Rudy Simms is a man who works hard to make the word “minority” a thing of the past. As the human rights director for the City of Des Moines, the suffrage for equality for all people is an endless toil.

“It’s my goal to continue to be of service to the citizens of Des Moines, perhaps expand those services to include a higher number of individuals,” he said.

Last year Simms and his staff of two were triumphant in the goal of increasing the department’s services by 25 percent. He’d like to match that for 2014, he said, with an increase in education and outreach efforts, more investigations and, hopefully, more closed cases.

Things to do differently

Discrimination has not ended, and the Department of Human Rights understands that more than most. Simms and his staff strive to educate the public and answer questions individuals and corporations have regarding non-discriminate employment, fair housing, municipal services and public accomplishments to ensure equal standards for all are being upheld in every public facet.

“We want to change people’s hearts and minds when it comes to how they respect one another, treat one another and how they give opportunity to one to another,” he expressed.

Personal goal

“I will continue to work hard for the people of Des Moines and continue to do my best to serve their best interests, eliminate discrimination and promote respect and understanding among all people and advocate justice.”

– Rudy Simms CV

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