Some good questions regarding Marina Redevelopment

Posted on Categories Marina 1092

If you’re 99% of Des Moines, you have no idea that the Marina Redevelopment is going on. Last month, the City asked for questions and comments from the public  which I urge you to read. But I am pretty sure you weren’t aware of that because the only outreach was in the form of flyers posted at the Marina and on the Marina’s web site. No outreach has been done for the residents of Des Moines.

Here is one question on that list, followed by the City’s response:

“I am a resident of Des Moines and to my knowledge there has not been a resident survey.”

You are correct. The residents do not pay for the Marina. While we would welcome their input, those who financially support the Marina enterprise fund is the top priority of the Master Plan.The City has held a number of community outreach meeting to help us understand the community’s desires for development options.

Let’s go back to Item #5 on the Consent Agenda (which I will be voting against.) Item #5 is to proceed with design and marketing of the land side redevelopment; not the Marina docks (ie. the moorage that boaters pay for–and the thing that actually needs fixing now.)

Get it? The only people the City reached out to for input on the land side were the boaters and the organizations already located at the Marina (SR3, Quarterdeck, CSR, Farmer’s Market.) Those existing stakeholders matter for sure. But let’s be clear: those are not the primary stakeholders of land side redevelopment. And neither are us boaters.

You, the residents of Des Moines, always have been and always will be the primary users of the Marina floor. And yet, you were not surveyed as to what you want for the future of the land side. There hasn’t even been a town hall to allow the public to weigh in.

The City is saying directly, “the residents of Des Moines are not a part of this decision making.” That is outrageous.

And about those stickers…

Now the last sentence of the response would seem to indicate otherwise–that the City has done ‘community outreach’. Yes, that did happen. Four years ago. In 2017.

And if you were one of the 300 or so people at that event in 2017, on the fancy Argosy boat, you were asked to provide your input on a number of ‘design options’ using colored stickers to indicate your preferred ideas. Supposedly this would help decide what design ideas should be implemented.

OK, let’s assume that input from 300 people, four years ago, using some stickers, constitutes ‘community outreach’ on the biggest public project in City history. I don’t, but if you want to understand how much all those stickers contributed to the current planning? I’ll make it simple: nothing. From what I can tell, the current design is exactly the same as the original renderings.

Sum it up…

Again, I encourage you to read those questions and answers because it captures perfectly what is wrong with the City’s approach. The City has had a plan for land side development in place for many years and they’re going ahead with it, full stop. There’s no interest in obtaining current community support and very little hard data to support many of the planning assumptions. That’s not my opinion; it says so right in the document.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about why so many public projects like this can feel so ‘inevitable’. Part of it has to do with the fact that it’s relatively easy to leave the public out of the process. But part of it has to do with the fact that a lot of things are hard to put into a sound bite. For example, I’ve had reporters ask me to give them a ‘twenty five words or less’ explanation of my objections to this process and I struggle. You need a certain amount of background to get it. This is as good as I can do for now. I know it’s an over-simplification, but you try to do better.

The docks (the waterside) are what needs fixing in about five years. But we blew all the money we set aside for updates so we can’t afford it. Now for many years, the City has had a plan to redo the land side, which is much more fun and will cost much less. So it is selling the idea that if we implement the land side plan now, it will somehow provide the ongoing revenues to pay for the docks later. In other words, we’re using the genuine urgency of the docks to ram through a decidedly non-urgent plan to redevelop the land side–with very little supporting data as to how much money it will bring in. A lot of the plan simply aligns with things that a small number of people have wanted for years rather than actual hard analysis.

Now, all that said, some of the individual ideas may well be very, very good. And I want to emphasize that. For example, the 223rd Steps portion makes perfect sense to me. Others, like a passenger ferry might be good ideas. But keep this in mind: the whole point is that all these ideas are supposed to pay for the docks. I am always skeptical when someone proposes that the things they already wanted to do perfectly align with the things that actually need to happen. And I think it would only make sense to get a second opinion from a completely independent source.

What keeps me up at night…

I’ll just close with the idea that keeps me up at night–and why I keep calling for more hard analysis and more community outreach before moving ahead:

In decades past, previous City Councils went all in on some ‘big ideas’ for ‘economic development’ that, in hindsight, now just seem like, What were they thinking? For Exhibit A I give you downtown Marine View Drive. Fifty years ago I’m sure that strip malls were a pretty easy sell for some developer. Now, we all have to live with those short sighted decisions.

I am all in favor of rebuilding the Marina, waterside and land side in a way that people fifty years from now will look back on with pride. The current plan has some ideas that may end up being great for Des Moines. But the process being employed to move them ahead is definitely not and I hope you will support me in my efforts to know a lot more before we plow ahead.

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