A Powerful Partnership

Drake neighborhoodDrake’s relationship with the surrounding neighborhood means a brighter future for both.

Listening to a broadcast of a Drake men’s basketball game, it’s impossible to miss Dolph Pulliam’s passion. His emotion pulses through the airways as he provides the radio audience with colorful depictions of the game’s events.

Meet him on a typical weekday morning at his office, and you’ll soon discover Pulliam speaks with that same fire when discussing his other role at Drake.

Since 2002, Pulliam, FA’69, has served as director of community outreach and development, working with the Drake Business Association, the Drake Neighborhood Association and other local organizations to ensure the continued vitality and vibrancy of the Drake neighborhood.

“We’re fixed together at the hip,” says Pulliam. “We have to exist together. Without one or the other, we can’t succeed.”

Drake was founded on a wooded area on the edge of the city limits. Since then, the University has dedicated itself to being a good neighbor and steward to the community that grew around it. In recent years, part of that responsibility has been coordinating resources and being pro-active in initiatives to better the neighborhood that envelops the campus.

“Drake University is just a huge part of the neighborhood and who we are and what we do,” says Eldon McAfee, a member and past president of the Drake Neighborhood Association. “It’s a huge advantage for us. Not many neighborhoods have a resource like Drake University.”

Drake’s commitment has also meant making physical improvements to the neighborhood. Five years ago, Drake began renovating its rental properties — a combination of 61 houses and apartment buildings. By the end of the summer, all Drake-owned houses will have new siding and remodeled interiors.

“We are trying to set a good example for the neighborhood,” says Dan Garringer, Drake real estate manager. “Once we started doing that, we noticed other people in the neighborhood started doing it too.”

Neighborhood growth

Over the past decade, the majority of developments in the Drake neighborhood have shown positive results. New real estate projects — such as the University Place Lofts and the Drake West Village — have brought numerous new restaurants, stores and other businesses to the area

Larry James Jr., LW’01, owner of Mars Café, was an original investor in the University Place Lofts project. James says others are figuring out what he was quick to realize: businesses can thrive in the area surrounding campus

“If there is a good business near campus, students are much more likely just to go across the street than drive 15 minutes,” says James. “The size of the Drake population and the buying power it represents — others have figured this out, that it’s a good place to open a business because of that.”

 

The flush of new businesses has brought a renewed sense of community. Now in its fourth year, Dogtown Fest, sponsored by area businesses and the neighborhood association, brings the neighborhood together in an annual celebration and attracts residents from surrounding areas. A community garden, located on Drake-owned property just south of 27th Street and University Avenue, is open to anyone living nearby.

Moving Forward

The renewal is not without its challenges. Stretching from I-235 to Franklin Avenue, 42nd Street to Martin Luther King, Jr. Parkway, the Drake neighborhood has a population larger than 22 of Iowa’s 99 counties. It’s also one of Des Moines most ethnically and economically diverse areas — meaning there are a lot of needs to consider and people to serve.

“You have no other area like this in the state of Iowa,” says Pulliam. “It’s rich. It’s a rich learning environment.”

Riding the wave of positive momentum, the Drake Neighborhood Association has developed a comprehensive neighborhood plan — the product of two years of work and the efforts of more than 120 individuals. The plan capitalizes on the historic elements of the neighborhood, with an emphasis on renovating old homes and restoring infrastructure. A plan to improve the streetscape to make it more pedestrian friendly, similar to the changes recently made to Ingersoll Avenue, is also in the works.

“Drake University, at this point, is in a good place,” says Pulliam. “It’s a vibrant community; yet, we know we can’t just relax. We must keep moving forward.”

 

— Elizabeth Ford, JO, AS’07

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