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Pella, the historic center of Dutch settlement in Iowa, has built on its history and heritage to create one of the Midwest's most distinctive small town environments. Pella was founded in 1847 under the leadership of Dominie Hendrik Pieter Scholte, an active member of the Separatist movement in the Netherlands. An exploratory group found 18,000 acres that was purchased by the Dutch for $1.25 an acre. This spot, which would become Pella, was located between the Des Moines and Skunk Rivers. Now with a community population of approximately 10,000, this city's downtown area brings to life the feel of the Netherlands because Pella's downtown is entirely Dutch-influenced. At its core, the Molengracht (Dutch for mill canal) replicates one of the defining images of the Dutch landscape and uses water as a unifying and reflective focus for this redevelopment area. Planning and Collaboration In 1995, the community and various stakeholder groups worked with Landscape Architects and Planners from RDG Crose Gardner Shukert, Inc., to establish a Town Center Plan that would identify and guide development opportunities. The primary opportunity described in this town center plan was a half block area just south and east of the existing town square. The Molengracht, a canal designed to recall the traditional design patterns of canals in Holland was proposed to link Main Street with the Historical Museum. Various illustrative sketches and concepts for the Molengracht and associated facilities were produced, culminating in the development of design guidelines and, ultimately, in a public and private partnership to reinvigorate this area. With this public/private partnership finalized, detailed design work began in 1998. The project scope included the complete redevelopment of half of an underutilized block of the downtown area. Five new, privately funded and operated buildings were designed by the developer's architect while the remaining public open spaces surrounding these facilities offered visitors a unique Dutch-inspired attraction. Also included was an 88 stall underground parking garage that offered both public and private climate controlled parking. The five buildings were developed as mixed use including retail, commercial, residential, and entertainment space. Unique Design Elements Significant historical research combined with current code and technical requirements to allow this project to proceed. Strict design requirements centered on establishing and maintaining the look and feel of a Dutch environment. Specific attention was given to these primary outdoor design elements: The Molengracht (or canal): This 415' long, 14' wide, and 15" deep-water body had many roles to play. Many of its requirements presented conflicting interests that challenged the Landscape Architects to create a balanced design. One example is the conflict between safety and authenticity. To appear more like a canal and less like a pool, the water wanted to be deep. Providing this depth would have required barriers that would have closed off the canal from the plaza. The solution was to provide a code compliant water depth and vertical fall distance while providing a dark canal bottom giving the illusion of greater depth and providing the spectacular reflectivity desired. Specific details regarding this feature include: o 6" thick shotcrete sides and bottom with epoxy coated reinforcement. o Black stained bottom and sides (below the water line) to add reflectivity and the illusion of greater depth. o Water filtration and pumping station located in the adjacent underground parking garage. o Water surface area: 6000 S.F. o Water volume: 56,250 gallons. o Water movements: 230 gallons per minute with a 4-hour turnover time. o Designed to allow winter use including ice skating. o Recessed "hidden" ends to add mystery to the water source and continuation. The Plaza and Streetscape: The environments adjacent to the Molengracht and along the street frontages were specifically designed to complement the Dutch architecture and to function as community event spaces. The streetscape carries on a strong tradition of using brick pavers and pollarded trees, both of which work well with facade treatments and signage. The Drawbridge: Providing the project with a central focal point was only part of the intent with this design element. This drawbridge was custom designed using laminated wood timbers and steel hardware to not only look like an authentic Dutch post and girder drawbridge, but it is also completely functional, using only the weight of one person to raise and lower each section. Research and scale model construction were an integral part of the success of this feature. The Parking Garage Entrance: The entrance to this 88 stall underground garage offered the Landscape Architect the opportunity to integrate architectural elements into a pedestrian environment, allowing both to exist in harmony. Custom handrails and guardrails with cast iron knuckles flank this garage entrance and continue around the elevated walks that frame the south edge of the project. The Molengracht Today The success of this project was evident well before the project was complete. Widespread community support and a high percentage of leased space prior to opening spoke well to the concept and its implementation. Today, the development's 120,000 square feet is 80% occupied and officials expect to fill it in two years. Major occupants of space include: Royal Amsterdam Hotel and Grand Cafe; Pella Cinema (tri-plex stadium seating movie theatre); and Pella Window Store Showroom. The Molengracht has become Pella's "crown jewel of growth". Complimenting the Molengracht on an adjacent site is the recently completed $3.5 million windmill and interpretive center. Designed to resemble a Dutch windmill of the 1850s, the 135-foot tall structure is the tallest working windmill in the country. At the observation level, visitors watch the mill's 3-ton stone grind wheat, corn and other grains into flour and meal. Throughout this project's seven year establishment period, Landscape Architects and Planners from RDG Crose Gardner Shukert have been integrally involved. From the creative ideas envisioned during the town center planning process to the detailed design implementation, this community and region better recognizes the role these professions and the unique application of water and open space have on our environments. Patrick Dunn is a Landscape Architect with RDG Crose Gardner Shukert, located in Des Moines, Iowa.

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June 17, 2019, 8:28 am PDT

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