Any city changes in 16 years, but the developments in downtown Des Moines since 1997 — the last time the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa spent the night in town — are especially pronounced.
Public and private entities have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on housing, park land, event venues and commercial space. Overlooked areas have become destinations for residents — and for big events, city and tourism officials say. Major sporting events in Des Moines in recent years have included regional finals of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, the NCAA wrestling championships and the U.S. track and field championships.
Change is far from finished. Work is in motion for an overhaul of Nollen Plaza, across from the Civic Center of Greater Des Moines, as well as a new YMCA. And the opening of a new hub for the regional transit system freed up Walnut Street for still-forming plans to turn a rundown bus corridor into another pedestrian-friendly commercial and entertainment zone.
With nearly three-quarters of RAGBRAI visitors coming from out of state, the city is eager to show off its progress.
So if you’re an infrequent guest or even a first-time visitor, here is a partial list of downtown attractions that were drastically different, still on the drawing board, or only dreams just before the turn of the century.
The 10,000-plus registered and unregistered bicyclists who reach Des Moines will encounter vehicle traffic unlike any other RAGBRAI stop. Authorities have spent all year preparing.
POLICE: Des Moines police plan to dedicate an entire patrol shift — about 30 officers — to policing the route, campgrounds and festivities on Court Avenue. The remaining two patrol shifts will work 12-hour days everywhere else in the city July 23 and 24.
DRIVERS: Crossing the metro area from west to east, the route for RAGBRAI’s first stop in Des Moines in 16 years could create some delays for commuters. North-south traffic will be most affected, and drivers trying to get downtown from the south when cyclists leave town on July 24 likely will see the longest delays.
COMING IN, GOING OUT
Downtown is hardly the only major site in the metro area for the RAGBRAI crowd. The shorter rides from Perry and to Knoxville will give riders time to sample West Des Moines’ historic Valley Junction area and its parties on Tuesday, and to get an early look at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on Wednesday.
CAMPING: A NEW HOME
The designated campsite in Des Moines is Water Works Park.
PAST LOCATIONS: Other sites were considered, including the Iowa Capitol complex, where riders stayed in 1988 and 1992. In 1997, the ride parked at Blank Park Zoo on the south side, after officials worried about moving so many bicyclists through the downtown area. The size of Water Works Park allowed organizers to avoid having more than one campground.
ABOUT WATER WORKS: The 1,500-acre park plays host to many events each year, including the Hy-Vee Fishing Derby for Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and the International Latino Carnival.
GETTING AROUND: The park is connected by trails to the primary entertainment area on Court Avenue and an “events village” along the Principal Riverwalk, but shuttle buses will be available to transport riders to RAGBRAI activities downtown.
MUCH MORE INFO
FIND IT IN DES MOINES: The campground? Attractions major and minor? The bathrooms? To get to any of them, check an interactive map coming soon RAGBRAI.com.
ENTERTAINMENT LISTINGS: Get a complete list for Des Moines and every town at RAGBRAI.com and on the new RAGBRAI mobile app.
COMING JULY 23: In The Des Moines Register the morning RAGBRAI comes to Iowa’s capital (and in the campground in Perry the night before), pick up a 12-page guide chock full of helpful information and maps about Des Moines.
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