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A transformation taking place along a stretch of Sixth Avenue, north of downtown Des Moines, will feature a Black and Brown business district, affordable housing and more.
Center @ Sixth, located at 1714 6th Avenue, is an empty field now. But, south of Sixth and Jefferson avenues, sits the future site of Marquas "MarKaus" Ashworth's game-changing multimillion dollar mixed-use 4-story development that will foster Black-owned and Brown-owned businesses, affordable housing and serve as a destination point.
The development's brainchild is Ashworth, a rapper who helms Media Fresh Records, Ziyad Rye Whiskey and Ashworth Development LLC. Ashworth, who did not respond to multiple requests for comment, will own the site when it's completed, according to a community leader.
Center @ Sixth derives its name from Des Moines' historic Center Street Neighborhood, a booming Black business district that was destroyed by freeway construction in the 1970s.
Now Center @ Sixth seeks to become a destination point.
"I envision this being the home, the heart, the soul of the city. Where the best food is, the best drinks are, the best jobs are, the best departments, the best experience, the best guest speakers, the best art," Ashworth told WOI-TV 5. "This is that space."
Future site of Center @ Sixth. Photo by Black Iowa News.
The property for Center @ Sixth is currently owned by the 6th Avenue Corridor, which purchased it from Urban Dreams. The corridor, a nonprofit organization, acts as a "foster parent" until the deal is finalized, said its executive director, Breann Bye.
Named an Urban Neighborhood Main Street program by the Iowa Economic Development Authority, 6th Avenue Corridor's mission includes coordinating the commercial revitalization of 6th Avenue from I-235 north to the Des Moines River bridge, which covers 1.2 miles through River Bend and Cheatom Park neighborhoods.
Bye said she can't speak for the Ashworth's development team, but she believes construction on Center @ Sixth will begin this year.
“The 6th Avenue Corridor through the historic River Bend and Cheatom Park neighborhoods is a vibrant, safe, pedestrian-friendly, culturally and historically rich area that encourages all of Des Moines to socialize, work, shop, play, and live," according to a statement on the corridor's website.
Future office for the nonprofit organization 6th Avenue Corridor. Photo by Black Iowa News.
Bye said the organization is thrilled about the development. She said two dilapidated "non-historic" structures were torn down to make way for the development after the organization acquired the property.
"The vision for this project is so important for the community," she said.
Bye, who has lived in the neighborhood for 12 years, said Sixth Avenue was originally a streetcar line. A carriage house, built in the late 1800s or early 1900s, which included horse stalls and feed bins, will be renovated and used for the corridor organization's new office, Bye said.
Other improvements in recent years have included street and sidewalk improvements and bus shelters adorned with art, all of which are designed to make the area more walkable for the community, she said.
What will Center @ Sixth feature?
- A nonprofit business incubator to cultivate Black-owned and Brown-owned businesses
- 12,000 square feet of ground level retail space
- Coffee shop
- Ashworth's distillery
- Courtyard, terrace and amphitheater
- Affordable housing: 32 upper-story apartments
- Public art
Future site of Center @ Sixth. Photo by Black Iowa News.
Historic Black business district on Center Street: 'destroyed by urban renewal and freeway construction'
Last year, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg called President Dwight Eisenhower's signing of the bill to create the Interstate Highway system in 1956 an "extraordinary achievement."
"But we know that the planners behind it also made choices that often routed new highways directly through Black and Brown neighborhoods, doing lasting damage to those communities," he said.
Like in Des Moines.
Urban renewal and the construction of I-235 killed the thriving Center Street community, a Black business district northwest of downtown Des Moines. Black business leaders in the early 1900s began conceiving the ideas behind Center Street, which lasted from the 1940s-1970s, according to historical records. Some of Center Street's amenities, according to the African American Museum of Iowa's searchable collections and the Iowa State Historical Society , included the Crescent School of Beauty Culture, DePatten's Launderette and Grill, physicians, a pharmacy, jazz and supper clubs, beauty salons and barber shops, restaurants, homes, apartments and boarding houses.
Freeway construction split the Black community and ended its cohesiveness. City leaders then turned toward the pursuit of new development, according to a state historian.
"This has been particularly apparent in Iowa's historically African American neighborhoods, which have endured higher-than-average demolition rates as well as waves of new arrivals who have little interest in the history of the community or the preservation of its historic fabric and culture," wrote historian Laura Sadowsky in an article on Medium.
Buttigieg told theGrio: "There is racism physically built into some of our highways, and that’s why the jobs plan has specifically committed to reconnect some of the communities that were divided by these dollars."
More on Sixth Avenue: 6th Avenue Flats
"Located in the heart of the city, the 6th Avenue Flats is joint project between HDG and Youth and Shelter Services (YSS) to provide housing to homeless youth in the Foster Care Program of Iowa. A portion of the 42 apartments will be reserved for YSS youth who have been homeless and are in the foster care program." — 6th Avenue Flats website.
Just north of 6th and University avenues, 6th Avenue Flats dominates the scenery. Bye said the lot that houses 6th Avenue Flats, currently under construction, had been vacant for years. It will also contain a mix of affordable housing and space for small business owners who will reside in the building, she said.
6th Avenue Flats in Des Moines. Photos by Black Iowa News.
Banner: Future location of Center @ Sixth, 1714 6th Ave., in Des Moines. Photo by Black Iowa News.