Urban blight....a photo essay

Tanya Keith makes her case for the local option sales tax on the Polk County ballot. Cross-posted from the Hat Trick Renovation blog. -promoted by desmoinesdem

When we first moved into River Bend, I owned a baby shop downtown called Simply for Giggles. We had only lived here a couple weeks when I realized I had to close my store because I wanted to spend more time with my family, and in my neighborhood. I feel so comfortable and happy in this place, it made me sad to go to work every day. I also realized that this neighborhood needed my skill set. I love to take risks, I have a degree in Interior Design, and I’ve done construction. There were so many houses in my neighborhood….heck…on my block, that needed a champion. Hat Trick Renovation is the continuation of that idea.

My work gives me a heightened awareness of the urban blight problem Des Moines means to address with the 1 percent sales tax vote on Measure A this Tuesday, March 6th. City Council member Josh Mandelbaum wrote a great breakdown of how I feel about the measure elsewhere on Bleeding Heartland. One of the biggest reasons I’m voting yes is I hate getting to the store and realizing I’ve left my 30-40 percent off coupon at home. I want roughly 1/3 of this money to come from outside the county.

But that’s getting ahead of myself. I’ve seen many people pose the question that we don’t need this money in the first place. We just need to belt tighten. This view is so out of sync with my daily worldview, I had to take people on a visual tour of what I see every day to show why I feel voting yes is the least regressive option. Des Moines’ urban core needs our help, and this sales tax is the lowest impact way to help those neighborhoods.

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Save the Iowa State Historic Tax Credit

Adapted from a post Tanya Keith wrote for Hat Trick Renovation, the blog for her company, where she works to restore historic houses in the urban core of Des Moines. -promoted by desmoinesdem

The current version of the Iowa Senate tax bill would reduce the Iowa State Historic Tax Credit from $45 million to $35 million, starting next fiscal year, and repeal the tax credit in 2025. That would be a huge loss for neighborhoods and main streets in Iowa. Many of our projects at Hat Trick Renovation are only viable because of state historic tax credits. Often older buildings need so much work, it can cost more to restore them than the building will eventually be worth. However, once restored, these buildings become beautiful, irreplaceable structures that will last far longer than modern day construction.

Not only are tax credits a vital part of our work in saving historic buildings in Des Moines, they are also good for the financial health of our state.

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Independent bids for Iowa governor are a waste of time

Brent Roske has ended his independent candidacy for Iowa governor, explaining in a December 26 Facebook post that he will be “stepping back into the media world” soon.

At least one other gubernatorial candidate, Gary Siegwarth, is trying to qualify for the general election ballot as an independent. Like Roske, he has little chance of moving the ball forward on the issues that are driving his candidacy.

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Review of progressive local election victories around Iowa

Democrats around the country had a lot to celebrate last night, including a “tidal wave” in Virginia, total control of state government in New Jersey, a vote to expand Medicaid in Maine, and a special election that gave the party a majority in the Washington State Senate. Voting rights may be expanded soon in several states, Ari Berman wrote today at Mother Jones.

Many progressive Democrats scored victories in Iowa’s non-partisan local elections as well.

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Get ready for a competitive GOP secretary of agriculture race

Craig Lang didn’t wait for Governor Kim Reynolds to decide. He is running for Iowa secretary of agriculture, no matter whom Reynolds picks to replace Bill Northey.

In his first comments to journalists about his campaign, Lang advocated more crop diversity and better land management practices, asserting that the dominant approach to farming in Iowa is not “sustainable.” That’s an unusual message for a Republican. Stranger still is hearing a former president of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation talk about soil health in terms more often heard from environmental experts than from Big Ag heavyweights.

Though he’s a first-time candidate, Lang has plenty of political connections and should have little trouble raising enough money for a credible statewide primary campaign against State Representative Pat Grassley or other contenders.

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Help find Iowa's best development projects

News coverage of economic development in Iowa tends to focus on large, heavily subsidized new construction, such as the Prestage Farms pork processing plant in Wright County or Orascom’s fertilizer plant in Lee County. Some of those marquee projects convert high-quality farmland into concrete boxes that could be built almost anywhere, like Apple’s planned data center in Waukee, or the similar Facebook facility in Altoona.

Since 2001, the non-profit 1000 Friends of Iowa has been recognizing projects that exemplify sustainable land use. Through November 13, the organization will accept nominations for this year’s Best Development Awards in any of the following categories:

Stormwater Management
Transportation/Complete Streets
Renewable Energy
Mixed Use
Innovative Leadership
Renovated Civic
New Civic
Renovated Commercial
New Residential
New Commercial
Renovated Residential

I’ve been an active supporter of 1000 Friends of Iowa for many years but am not involved in selecting the Best Development Award winners. An external panel of judges reviews all applications.

Every year, I’m inspired to see how a few committed people have transformed old and sometimes historically significant buildings. Reusing an existing space is not only environmentally-friendly, but also has a large multiplier effect for the local economy, especially in a downtown business district.

A wide range of projects may qualify for a Best Development Award. To get a sense of the diversity, scroll down to read about last year’s winners. You can view all the honorees since 2005 here. Please consider nominating a worthy contender from your area.

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