Jay Byers
Jay Byers, CEO of the Greater Des Moines Partnership
Jay Byers
Jay Byers, CEO of the Greater Des Moines Partnership
Inside the Stagecoach
November 3, 2016

Wells Fargo History Museum helps revitalize downtown Des Moines

The new museum, which opens Nov. 10, is a key ingredient in the “secret sauce” of the city’s success, writes the CEO of the Greater Des Moines Partnership.

As Wells Fargo opens its latest in a national network of history museums Nov. 10, Jay Byers, the CEO of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, highlights the project’s impact on the area’s economic and community development efforts.

City leaders across the U.S. often ask me what’s in the “secret sauce” of our economic success.

My answer is always “corporate leadership, public-private partnerships, and community visioning.” All three explain why there’s such momentum right now here in Des Moines, Iowa, where more than 40 development projects are currently underway.

Take the Iowa Events Center convention hotel project, which began earlier this year. The coming hotel already has enabled the region to attract future big events. This is because the right people worked closely with community and elected leaders, developing vision plans that included the hotel and prioritizing other downtown development projects to add world-class amenities and an influx of residential activity.

These plans don’t just sit on the shelf; we act on them as a community, and our corporate leaders are instrumental in donating both the time and money to help ensure success.

‘Helping to fulfill the vision’

Wells Fargo, which has more than 14,000 employees in Greater Des Moines (the company’s third largest workforce in the U.S.), has certainly been one of those leaders. The company’s 12th Wells Fargo History Museum — which opens Nov. 10 on the same floor as the Wells Fargo branch at 666 Walnut St. — is a case in point. It is helping to fulfill the vision of a redeveloped downtown.

Greater Des Moines leaders, through strategic visioning, have long identified Walnut Street’s redevelopment as a key priority for our downtown core. A $5.6 million streetscape plan and transformation was supposed to have begun in 2014. But in March 2014, a fire destroyed the historic Younkers building and seemingly put everything on hold.

However, our community would not let the redevelopment effort stall after the blaze. Wells Fargo helped spur the development momentum by announcing in November 2015 that it would open its 12th history museum on Walnut Street. The museum will be the first to feature a Wells Fargo wagon, in honor of the Iowan playwright and composer Meredith Willson, who immortalized the wagon in his Broadway musical, “The Music Man.” The museum will also have interactive displays and a rotating art gallery.

Greater Des Moines is certainly fortunate to have such a strong global company investing in our region. The museum is part of $313.5 million worth of investments taking place in the area. It will be free and open to the public and it’s expected to draw about 25,000 visitors downtown each year.

Walnut Street in Des Moines
The streetscape plan for Walnut Street's revitalization. The museum will be located on the ground floor of the Financial Center building, at right.

Revitalizing downtown Des Moines

A streetscape project with LED lighting, benches, planters, and new landscaping is also coming and expected to lead to an influx of restaurants, retail and living spaces. Some other elements of the redevelopment plan include:

  • A proposed 26-story high-rise apartment building planned at the former Younkers site
  • A 32-story residential high-rise proposed just south of Walnut Street
  • A new $39 million office building for EMC Insurance
  • A recently completed renovation of the Cowles Commons outdoor space next to the Des Moines Civic Center.

The strategies that have served us well in Des Moines can work for other cities, too.

Start with people — the kind who are able to come together and holistically focus on the community’s betterment. Then develop a plan, drawing on the leadership and cooperation among the public and private sectors to see it through.

Every community’s “secret sauce” is going to have some different ingredients — more of this or less of that, based on individual circumstances. But visioning, leadership, and cooperation are always great places to start.

As our revitalization efforts continue on Walnut Street and throughout downtown Des Moines, we’re confident that Wells Fargo’s history museum investment will stand out as a transformational project and key destination for downtown workers, residents, and visitors.