Retail Development Begins Taking Shape in Des Moines

Village of Ponderosa's central Market Street has been formed with a base coat of asphalt, a few building frames are standing and the bridges over Crescent Lake are under construction.

"You can really start to get a flavor of what the village commercial area is about," said Rick Ball, president of Ball Construction Services LLC, the general contractor for the entire 97-acre community development.

Five buildings are being constructed in the commercial core, and almost all of the 16 planned buildings have been designed with specific uses or tenants in mind. Construction of the village area could be complete by 2009.

Nearby, developments are booming along West Des Moines' Mills Civic Parkway corridor, providing a mix of big-box retail, smaller community-type services and major offices. However, "we're able to provide a really unique experience that the other developments in that corridor don't have: an outdoor pedestrian experience," said Dennis Reynolds, development design director for Ladco Development Inc., the developer of Ponderosa. This includes attractive buildings, public art, seven miles of walking paths and sidewalks and leaving 35 percent of the entire community as open space.

The commercial center will be located just east of South 60th Street. Buildings A, B, D, E and J are under construction, and will bring financial services, a bank, a beauty and wellness center, mixed-use space and a market, which will be the center's focal point, to the community, Ball expects to complete these buildings by the end of the year.

As other tenants sign on, construction could begin this fall on three or four more buildings. BSB Design, formerly known as Bloodgood Sharp Buster Architects and Planners Inc., has agreed to lease an entire 16,000square-foot building, labeled N, and Ladco is in negotiations with Pin-Up Bowl, a combination of a martini lounge and bowling alley, which would be located behind Vision Bank along one of the main entrances.

Despite significant rainfall this spring, Ball said construction is still ahead of schedule. It's going to be "a very active summer out there," he said.

"The activity out there has been tremendous," Ball said, "and we're very excited about the ability to really bring the village alive."

Though the commercial center is moving ahead rapidly, the residential area is on a slightly slower three-year timeline and could be finished as late as 2010. "The interest level out there has been strong," Ball said, "and we're continuing to see sales on a weekly basis."

Village at Ponderosa is more comprehensive than most development projects, Ball said, with the biggest difference being that crews have had to put in infrastructure, including roads, utilities, power and sewer, before beginning construction on buildings. Most projects, Ball said, have that in place before crews arrive.

With so many different elements to the project, Ball also said it requires a significant amount of coordination with other crews. The construction of buildings with unique architectural elements also requires extra attention.

"These are not the conventional big-box commercial office buildings," Ball said, referring to features that "give them character and really try to create an environment where you want to stay and spend some time."

The design elements are something Reynolds has spent several months working on. He has designed the main street area to follow the crescent shape of the lake; the curve in the street, he said, "entices you to see right around the corner." The mixed-use buildings along the main corridor will have large windows to bring in a lot of light and give smaller tenants more open and prominent spaces. Comer units, most likely for executive offices or conference rooms, will have balconies.

On the main level, the sidewalks will be extra wide to allow people to walk side-by-side. An overhang will protect people from the weather, and ground-floor windows will provide a built-in seat. Smaller neighborhoodtype lights will light the main street at night.

Near the Gateway Market will be a lakeside terrace large enough for a 300-person event and distinguished by a clock tower with an illuminated face. Seating with movable chairs and small tables will be available. The pedestrian bridge nearby is designed to be only 15 inches above the water with low handrails, bringing people closer to the water, Reynolds said.

Crescent Lake will provide a separation between the commercial and residential districts. An 1800s Englishstyle rose garden near building N also will provide a buffer between the two areas. BSB Design is working on 13 housing styles that will be used for the 513 housing units in the residential area.

In addition to landscaping, Ponderosa will feature public art from local, national and international artists, especially in an Art Lawn along one of the main entrances.

The community's design also incorporates some "green" building features, such as highly efficient heating and cooling system and bioretention swales thar collect rainwater. All commercial and retail buildings will be nonsmoking.

Designing the Village area, Reynolds said, has been a balance between quality and cost.

"From a construction standpoint, you have to be real smart with your dollars and spending a lot of money on [the outside of the building to enclose] a smaller volume, so we've tried to be very efficient in how we design [the exterior] and how we design interiors to minimize the amount of space we use."

Having sets of similar-looking buildings (D, F and G as well as A, C and I), helps maximize resources, Reynolds said.

For the entire village concept, Reynolds said the team looked at similar places across the country that have been successful, such as Country Club Plaza in Kansas City and the Village of Riverside in Illinois.

"They have continued to far outperform in terms of quality of life and in terms of the investment for what they provide," Reynolds said.