Market District


According to census data, Des Moines has grown 18.6% in the past decade, making it the fastest growing midwestern city by percentage in the country. With domestic migration trends pointing to America’s Heartland, Des Moines population is expected to reach one million by 2050. Based on the typical suburban development trends throughout the Midwest, there is concern that nearly 1 million acres of land could be consumed to accommodate Des Moines’ growth in the next 30 years.

The Capitol View South neighborhood – situated ½ mile from downtown Des Moines – had once been the industrial backbone of the city and the neighborhood was largely bereft of people. The industrial activities are moving out of the neighborhood, leaving a 39-acre transformational opportunity in the heart of the city. Market District focuses density at the city’s core to alleviate development pressures on the exurban landscape. With emphasis on closing the parks and open space gap and promoting sustainable transportation and infrastructure, Market District creates a model for urban neighborhoods for the City of Des Moines.


Migration to America’s Heartland

According to census data, Des Moines has grown 18.6% in the past decade, making it the fastest growing midwestern city by percentage in the country. With the city’s commitment to attracting and retaining talent by investing in major projects, Des Moines is poised for a strong post-pandemic future – with its population expected to reach one million by 2050. Based on the typical suburban development trends throughout the Midwest, there is concern that nearly 1 million acres of land could be consumed to accommodate Des Moines’ growth in the next 30 years. 1

Focusing Growth at Des Moines Core

Historically, the Capitol View South District has been the industrial backbone for downtown, providing infrastructure for the City’s community service facilities to exist and serve the residents and businesses but also leaving the area largely bereft of people. The industrial nature of the site coupled with zoning regulations have resulted in a district that ranks 4th least dense in the city and notable for its deficiency in parks and open space. Mid-American Energy Company, which services Des Moines and is a major owner and partner in the redevelopment plan, is moving out of the district – leaving a 39-acre hole in the city’s urban fabric. The site, which is comprised of disconnected streets, impervious asphalt lots, vacant single-story buildings, few residents, and little outdoor public space is prime for redevelopment due to its proximity to downtown, regional trails, and existing transit infrastructure. Upon analysis of existing metropolitan assets, it has become apparent that this district is ripe for quality public open space and increased development density that can facilitate larger events, relieve the pressures that existing events are putting on Downtown Des Moines, and accommodate thousands on a much smaller footprint than typical greenfield development.


Market District seeks to densify a once stagnant neighborhood through the alteration of existing industrial zoning codes, allowing for mixed use buildings that increase the amount of housing units in the district by 1,500% while providing 210,000+ sq. ft. of office space and 135,000+ sq. ft. of retail space. Through rigorous analysis of the site, and in efforts to make Market District a desirable place to work and live, the design team has emphasized green infrastructure, multimodal and non-traditional forms of transportation, and the provision of high-quality public space, transforming this formally industrial district into a mixed use, walkable and ecological haven in the heart of Des Moines.

Achieving Density While Protecting Critical Views

In order to preserve views from Principal Park – Des Moines’ downtown baseball stadium – to the State Capitol, a building ordinance was signed into law in 2002 designating the Capitol View South District as a Capitol Dominance Overlay District. The overlay, which blankets the Market District Site, restricts building heights to 75. This restriction made it challenging to achieve the desired density on the site.

Through rigorous analysis and 3D modeling, the design team showed that additional height was achievable while still protecting and enhancing the view to the Capitol. Considering the topographic changes on the ground plane, coupled with the upward angle of the view plane to the Capitol, the team was able to generate trapezoidal block envelopes. These trapezoidal block envelopes promote terraced building massing within the view plane, while maximizing density on areas outside of view plane within the same block. This strategy allowed for the preservation of this critical view of the capitol, while maximizing density throughout the Market District.

Stormwater as Placemaking

The Capitol View South District has historically been subject to flooding during 10-year storm events or larger due to its aging infrastructure. The design team took this challenge as an opportunity and developed “stormwater streets” which redefine the conventional, one-dimensional approach to dealing with water. This layered, dynamic, and soft approach to managing stormwater creates the opportunity for habitat corridors and healthy tree canopy coverage, setting the District apart from other neighborhoods around Des Moines. The master plan creates 5,600 linear feet of bioswales within the public right of way, resulting in 100% treatment of stormwater from the streets and private development sites. Furthermore, the provision of detention areas allows this development to mitigate flooding from a 10-year storm rain event, becoming a model for future developments in the city.

Connecting the District to the City

After examining existing transit infrastructure and regional trail connections, it became apparent that Market District poses a critical link within Des Moines transportation network. The master plan provides a new urban grid of complete streets that will be walkable, bike friendly, and transit oriented. Currently the district has 2,268 linear feet of disconnected and non-ADA compliant sidewalks; the master plan has 21,600 linear feet of new and generously wide sidewalks. New bike facilities are planned to include 2,400 linear feet of grade separated/protected bike lanes, a first for Des Moines. Additionally, the master plan identifies three bike share stations for people to use to help reduce the dependency on the car and therefore traffic in the District. Lastly, the team has incorporated two bus stops for future service that will allow people easier access to other parts of downtown or metropolitan regions.

Generating Quality Public Space

One of the more impactful components of the Market District master plan in the commitment to creating new public space in the District. Mid-American Energy Company has committed to build a new public park on the property adjacent to the Des Moines River, creating a new 8-acre amenity for the city and its citizens. Located approximately 2/3 of a mile away on the opposite end of Market District, the city has also committed to build a wetland park where stormwater from 200 acres of the urban watershed will flow to create an ecological utopia in Market District. It was imperative to link these two parks programmatically and physically, and the team did so through a signature pedestrian woonerf, Market Street, that will connect the two parks and create value added through the district. Envisioned as a linear plaza that cars can drive on but is designed to put the pedestrian first and fashioned after historic examples of similar streets around the world, Market Street will be the signature urban public space that is planned for a variety of city and community activities throughout the year. Its ambiance and brand will established through a catenary lighting system that will hang across the street to provide ambient lighting from above; the first street in Des Moines to do so. This allocation of space to the public increased the Capitol View South’s park and open space acreage from 2 acres to 9.8 acres, concisely linking the district and closing the park gap for this part of the city.

This 39-acre urban infill project transforms a previously industrial area into the center of urbanism that supports new housing, businesses, and community activities. In order to combat the ills of sprawl in the Midwest’s fastest growing metro, Market District puts density at the heart of the city. Though densification and implementation of best practices including green infrastructure, transit-oriented development, and the provision of high quality public space, Market District has become a catalytic development for the City of Des Moines.


  1. “Des Moines Growth Outpaces Other Midwestern Cities.” Business Record,,2010%20to%20719%2C146%20last%20year.

Documents and Media

Planning Docs (if applicable):