Dogtown development project near Drake University receives approval from Urban Design Review Board

Merge Urban Development to move forward with $20 million investment in the Drake neighborhood

With today’s Urban Design Review Board approval, Merge Urban Development (Merge) of Cedar Falls, Iowa, is one step closer to starting their transformational project at 25th Street and University Avenue in the Dogtown district of the Drake neighborhood.

Pending City Council approval, Merge will commence construction later this year on phase one of a two-phase project to redevelop portions of a city block. Phase one of the development will include 116 mixed-income residential units, 8,200 sq ft. of commercial space, and 3,000 sq ft. of office space. Phase one represents a $20 million investment in the Drake neighborhood.

“Our vision is to give the existing energy a new gathering place,” said Brent Dahlstrom of Merge Urban Development. “The goal of our project is to serve as the link between campus and Dogtown, further establishing this culture and arts district as a premiere destination in Des Moines.”

The Merge project was awarded Workforce Housing Tax Credits from the Iowa Economic Development authority. This represents a crucial investment, helping to meet the well-publicized metro and statewide need for new housing units for moderate income households. Included in the 8,200 sq ft. of commercial space in phase one are four micro-retail bays. Micro-retail is intended to lower the barrier of entry and help diverse small businesses thrive in the vibrant Dogtown district.

“We are excited to see Merge begin their work in the neighborhood,” said Ryan Arnold, director of community engagement at Drake University. “This development adds much needed housing to the community, enhances the unique energy of Dogtown, and accentuates this as one of the best places to live and visit in Des Moines.”

The Merge project will complement the Des Moines Film Society’s work to restore and reopen the Varsity Cinema, which sits on the same block.

Des Moines firm Slingshot Architecture is designing the development, which will incorporate features to match the aesthetic of Drake University’s Mid-Century Modern architecture and other neighborhood buildings.

About Merge Urban Development Group
Merge was founded in 2018 in response to the Investment in Opportunity Act as a development platform for urban core, mixed-use projects in overlooked markets in the Midwest. The founding partners identified the federal initiative as an efficiently-designed connector of the vital resources and skill sets necessary to generate both compelling financial returns and meaningful impact through real estate.

A guiding principle of Merge and its affiliates’ approach to communities is collaboration. In-depth community engagement was identified as a necessary element to untapping potential in the overlooked areas selected as Qualified Opportunity Zones. The team embraced collaboration of stakeholders and drove the notion that blurring distinctions between spaces, ideas, and people would deliver enjoyable, financially attainable, and safe built environments for people.

Media Contact: Brent Dalhstrom, managing partner, Merge Urban Development, (319) 406-2494,