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Neighborhoods on the Rise

By Beth Eslinger for DSM Magazine

Drive through the Drake and Franklin area neighborhoods between 25th and 48th streets around University Avenue, and the crisp white yard signs touting Invest DSM stand out even amid the clutter of last fall’s election. 

Look a little further at the properties, and you might see scaffolding signaling an exterior makeover on a story-and-a-half brick or a 125-year-old Victorian perched on a new foundation, showing off its recent move from another part of the city. 

These two neighborhoods are both target areas of Invest DSM, a nonprofit working to boost home values and commercial spaces in four historic neighborhoods in Des Moines proper. 

Started in July 2019, Invest DSM was created with help from city and county funding to revitalize four special investment districts, one in each city ward—Columbus Park and Highland Park/Oak Park are the other two areas. 

All four are within a few miles of the city center, meaning short commutes to downtown. And all have established trees, schools, parks, shopping and more to attract young professionals and families. Plus, some of the city’s beloved dining spots and new shopping and entertainment zones are within walking, biking or driving distance. 

“Most of the homes [in the four neighborhoods] were not keeping up with inflation over a 20-year period of time,” says Christopher Civitate, neighborhood development manager with Invest DSM. To help boost values—and keep the neighborhoods attractive—the program provides matching grants to assist in home repairs that make a meaningful difference. The program’s target is to reach 20% of homes in each neighborhood within a decade with funding help for improvements such as curb appeal updates, kitchen and bath remodels, and even primary suite additions. 

The focus will help homes in these central neighborhoods survive and thrive for another century. As Sierra Rose, operations manager of Invest DSM, says, “We don’t just want to slap a coat of paint on the house and ignore that the foundation is crumbling.” 

Realtor and investor Eric Quiner recently renovated his second Franklin-area home through the program as part of his family business Q Enterprises. His recent project, a bungalow on 41st Street north of University Avenue, is just seven houses from Louie’s Wine Dive, Campbell’s Nutrition, Hy-Vee Drugstore and the other locally owned shops and restaurants at Uptown Shopping Center. 

While the house dates to 1918, the amenities are decidedly modern—quartz countertops, an open living room and kitchen, a primary bedroom with an en suite bath, high-efficiency furnace, and a new driveway, garage and roof. Mature trees and shrubs and the classic bungalow retain the character and charm of the century-old neighborhood. 

Working with Invest DSM allows Quiner to follow his passion for remaking old homes. “I save the planet one home at a time,” he says. “It’s part business, part creative, part civic duty.”

How It Works

Two programs are available to homeowners. The first to roll out in 2019, the Block Grant Challenge, focuses on affordable curb appeal updates by a group of five or more homeowners within sight of one another. Each homeowner can apply for matching funds—up to $2,500—for updates that make a big impact on an old home and boost the look of a block, such as new paint and shutters, foundation plantings and storm doors. 

“The whole goal was to get people to know each other … to have more of a sense of community and place of where they live,” Rose says.

Look for the “Invest DSM” signs in the Drake and Franklin areas, and it’s evident the program is popular. Just east of Glenwood Cemetery at 46th and 47th streets north of University Avenue, numerous clusters of homes feature fresh facades and landscaping, thanks to the funding help. 

The second part of the program (these are the “I’m Invested in My Community” signs) provides matching grants for larger renovations that bring homes into the current century—projects like removing walls to open up floor plans, carving out space for closets, crafting new storage-filled kitchens, and bumping into backyards with home additions. 

“We help people stay in the communities they love, that they already have roots in,” Rose says. “They don’t have to look to the suburbs to have amenities and modern touches.” 

Working with planners through Invest DSM, homeowners are encouraged to select higher-level finishes and materials. “It allows the homeowners to think bigger than they might have done previously,” Rose says. 

For street appeal throughout the four neighborhoods, there’s a focus on trees. Through a program with Trees Forever, more than 700 trees have been planted so far, with another 150 in the works this winter. Drive around and see an abundance of green 5-gallon buckets throughout all four neighborhoods—another sign of the growth to come. 

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