It’s Just A Neon Sign, Right?

Pappajohn Sculpture Park. Subs and aesthetics don't mix, or do they?


That word is generally defined as changing with time, attitude, and ideas.  Despite the differences, we continually move forward by finding common ground and adapting to the changes the best way we know how. 

Some stories have put those who support progress at odds with what they actually believe in…progress.  It’s not a nice way of saying it, but I’m calling it as I see it as an observer. 

I have no dog in these fights, but they do interest me. 

The Pappajohn Sculpture Park/Subway flap from several months ago is a good example. 

Andy Fales and Chris Hassel even weighed on the fiasco on their radio show.  Fast forward to the 6:56 mark.  Die hard art fans, you’re not going to like hearing their opinion. 

A while back, Subway opened up a new chain across the street from the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park here in Des Moines.  To some, what Subway has done, is akin to committing adultery (sorry Gary Hart and Herman Cain).  Critics say that Subway has “ruined” the aesthetics of the Sculpture Park by setting up shop. 

Funny thing is that hardly no one bitched about Jimmy John’s or Wellmark moving in and ruining the scene at the park, which makes this “controversy” interesting as hell to read.  I have no issue with the anti-Subway crowd.  They have a right to protest and I understand their arguments, which some of it is valid, but their scorn should be directed at the very thing that opened the door for Subway to move in:   

The Sculpture Park itself. 

Since the opening of the Sculpture Park, the property value of the Western Gateway area in Des Moines has increased dramatically.  That’s a fact that I think is being ignored, whether by purpose or not.  Properties and run-down buildings that were difficult to sell or fill in with tenants before 2008, are now clamoring to be a part of the neighborhood.  When you have a cool new place, people want to be in the thick of the action. 

Americana has made it the "in" thing for businesses to move near the Sculpture Park.

There’s over $40 million dollars worth of art sitting on a parcel of land that stretches nearly two blocks.  If you don’t think the value of the neighborhood is going to skyrocket, then I’m the next incarnation of Jesse Jackson. 

I love and support art, but I’m no hypocrite to the fact that the Sculpture Park would have never happened if venture capitalist John Pappajohn didn’t make the Des Moines Art Center, the city of Des Moines, and businesses collaborate to make the park a reality to move his amazing art collection to. 

In other words, “corporate” money had a big part in it.  All that Pappajohn did was donate the art.  He needed space to share his “toys” with the people.  He is a businessman. 

Next time you head to the Sculpture Park, stop by the donation signs on the Grand Avenue side.  Read off the list of corporations, local or national, has donated money to build the park.  Just because the park is for the people, it’s the “corporate” that kicked in most of the funding for the park to be created and to be sustained.

Even Meredith Publishing’s Art Slusark and Art Center director Jeff Fleming, a guy I really like, should know that.  In fact, they do and their comments were, according to the Des Moines Register’s editorial, was elitist and contradictory.  Slusark’s a businessman.  His job is to sell magazines.  I pay membership dues every year so that the Art Center and the Sculpture Park is accessible and free to the citizens of Des Moines.  In essence, Fleming runs a business. 

Meredith, before all of these changes, was the only fancy building on the west side of downtown.  Every other building around them was a dump.  Has Meredith ever encouraged progress in the area in the years before the Sculpture Park? 

From my vantage point, the answer to that question is no.  And no, their garden doesn’t count. 

Another fact that is undeniable is that real estate developers such as Jack Hatch and Rich Eychaner own these properties and have every right to do what they see fit.  I may not agree with some of their decisions, but I’m not in the real estate business.  Plus, it doesn’t hurt that both guys have very considerable business (and in Hatch’s case) political pull in Des Moines. 

They love art just like the anti-Subway crowd.  The difference is that they have to turn a profit.  That’s a cruel way of saying it, but that’s real talk.  I can’t ignore that.  Money talks, kids, and in business, if you don’t make money, you’re in the wrong place.

Hatch isn’t going to turn down a chance for a prospective tenant to pay him money to relocate their company on one of his properties. How many folks are going to bitch when Flynn Wright and Microsoft moves in? 

If they haven’t done it yet, then the uproar towards Subway could be seen as nothing more than selective choosing to pick on someone.

If Subway shouldn’t be there, then Americana, Meredith, Gaslamp, and all of the businesses, regardless if it’s “local” or a national chain, shouldn’t be there.  It’s that simple.  

On the flip side, employees at Wellmark, Meredith, ING, Principal, Nationwide, and Wells Fargo don’t give a damn about the how Subway is ruining the Sculpture Park.  They want options to eat around downtown.  Nor do the majority of citizens in Des Moines, .  It’s just another business in the Western Gateway like Meredith:  making a profit. 

There is nothing in the city’s rulebook that they have to conform or be banned from setting up on a property, unless you’re the feds trying to stick an I.C.E. facility in town. 

I walked through the park several nights ago to take in the skyline and the nice weather.  I was too busy admiring the art to notice that a Subway was across the street.  After a while, who is going to notice it, except for those who are going to keep talking about it.

That would be a damn shame if you asked me.

Businesses will come and go, as they normally do.  The Sculpture Park isn’t going anywhere for a long time.  John Pappajohn would prefer the citizens to look at the art, not worry about a damn neon sign. 

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