BIG CHANGES: Downtown Landmark Revamped

Big changes are coming to an outdoor hub of activity in downtown Des Moines.  Nollen Plaza is getting a new name to go with its new look.

“You can sit here in the summer and eat your lunch,” says Jim Carroll.

That’s what kept Carroll coming back for the last 20 years.  He says over time, the crowds at the once packed plaza have dwindled.

“It’s typically like this.  Four or five people and that’s about all ,” say Carroll.

A new look and a new name are designed to draw people back.

“I want to share with you the new name for this space and that is Cowles Commons,” says Des Moines Performing Arts Board Chair Mary Stier.

It’s named for the Gardner and Florence Call Cowles Foundation.  Their support has helped raise $11 million for the project so far.

“Thank you for the honor of the naming of this facility and I  just can’t wait to see when it’s all pulled together and we have a new town hall square,” says Charlie Edwards with the Gardner and Florence Call Cowles Foundation.

The new design includes filling in the sunken part of the plaza and putting a red carpet area in its place.

“This is the symbolic rolling out of the red carpet for them and that red carpet is a multi-use, flexible space for events and activities,” says landscape architect Ken Smith.

Plans also include a new fountain, benches, a new art sculpture and more green space.  In all the changes, one thing will stay the same.

“We’re also preserving the Crusoe Umbrella.  One of the things we hear in the chatter is the Des Moines community loves the Oldenburg umbrella,” says Smith.

Once complete, the hope is that more people will become regulars at Cowles Common.

“It is the final puzzle piece for our beautiful city,” says Stier.

The city named the plaza after brothers Henry and Gerard Nollen.  The pair was honored for contributions to the insurance industry in Des Moines.  The City Council will vote on changing the name to Cowles Commons at Monday’s meeting.

Crews will break ground on the project in June.   Construction is expected to last for the next 12 to 14 months.