Regeneration planning for Des Moines

The City of Des Moines in Washington State is working on a multi-year project to update its waterfront and marina. The end result will be to better showcase the views and natural beauty of the Puget Sound area and the distant Olympic Mountains, while providing exceptional community gathering spaces.

The city of Des Moines enjoys the backdrop of the magnificent Olympic Mountains.

The city of Des Moines enjoys the backdrop of the magnificent Olympic Mountains.

The Des Moines community marina lies on Puget Sound, an inlet of the Pacific Ocean located along the northwestern coast of Washington. It is the second largest estuary in the USA, after Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and Virginia, and provides a stunning backdrop to the marina, which the City considers its “crown jewel”. It gives the local, regional and international boating community the opportunity to enjoy the city’s unique offerings, while also delivering the ambience of a functional waterfront marina with breathtaking views of Puget Sound to the local community.
The City is planning steadily-paced improvements to the marina alongside a project to connect it with downtown Des Moines. One idea floated so far is to create a dramatic series of steps – the ‘Marina Steps’ – connecting the two. The area would comprise a 45,252ft² (4,204m²) activity hub connecting to an improved marina boasting more moorage and storage, as well as opportunities for maritime businesses and retail. The project includes plans to improve the Beach Park and Overlook Park areas above the marina, to further integrate the new development and create better pedestrian connections.
Marina overhaul
The marina, which covers an approximate area of 29 acres (11.7ha), currently offers wet and dry moorage for 840 recreational vessels, making it one of the largest capacity marinas on Puget Sound. The only marina located between Seattle and Tacoma, it sits adjacent to a 25-acre (10-ha) historic shoreline city park with a beach, trails and other facilities. SeaTac Airport is five miles (8km) away, with metro options nearby.
Des Moines Marina has 729 slips for a wide variety of vessels.

Des Moines Marina has 729 slips for a wide variety of vessels.

The facility was constructed in 1970 with 729 slips, 466 (64%) covered and 263 (36%) uncovered, ranging in size from 20-62ft (6-19m), with the majority of slips less than 30ft (9m) long. Despite adding more slips over the last 50 years, spaces are still at a premium, with around 200 people on a waiting list. Facilities include a boatyard, 30 and 50 amp electricity, restrooms with showers, secure gates with surveillance cameras and hazardous disposal facilities.
Recent additions to the marina include The Quarterdeck, a container café serving wine, beer and coffee, which sits near the harbourmaster’s office at the north end of the marina. In a first of its kind for the Pacific Northwest, SR3 – a marine mammal rescue non-profit – is operating a marine mammal hospital on a portion of land at the south end of the marina. Additionally, the City is expanding visitor facilities for marina guest moorage.
At 53 years old, however, many facilities are at or near the end of their design life. Since 2021, the City – which owns and operates the marina – has been redeveloping it in stages. Originally built using timber pilings, the marina has held up well but, due to the corrosive saltwater environment, economic conditions, changing public interest and its age, many marina facilities and associated infrastructure within the waterfront are in need of repair and replacement.
So far, the seawall in front of the boat yard has been repaired, but other sections need entire reconstruction, which was set to begin in August 2021 and complete by July 2023.
Des Moines Marina (here & below) is a much-loved facility that has served the local community for over 50 years.

Des Moines Marina (here & below) is a much-loved facility that has served the local community for over 50 years.

A Comprehensive Marina Master Plan drawn up in 2021 divided projects across three tiers, according to time frame. Tier 1 projects aim to complete within five years and include upgrading the toilet facilities, power and water systems, electrical services, replacing the M and N docks, and planning and designing an adaptive purpose building (APB) with drystack boat storage.
Tier 2 projects – to be completed within ten years – include constructing the APB building and drystack, replacing the remaining portion of the original seawall, replacing or reconfiguring D, E, F and G docks and upgrading the fuel tank. Tier 3 projects are considered longer term and ideally will be completed within 20 years. They include replacing H, I, J, K and L docks, improving all pedestrian connections, replacing the marina office and replacing the marina’s boat hoist. The timing of Tier 2 and Tier 3 projects is subject to the availability of resources.
To achieve its goal of becoming one of the premier boating destinations in Puget Sound, the City will also redevelop the waterside, upgrading and expanding facilities with many more options for day-use and long-term boaters. It is also looking into the feasibility of a passenger ferry service from the marina to Tacoma, Seattle and other Puget Sound locations.
Marina Steps
The City is working with design studio, Skylab Architecture, to produce a preliminary design for the Marina Steps. After this, it will select a developer and work with them to determine the most efficient construction method. Eric Lane, economic relief and resource coordinator for the City, says the council will have more direction on future development following its meeting mid-month (January).

As things stand, Skylab’s vision includes some innovative storm water features, including water infiltration planters along the pedestrian walk, reconnections of natural drainage and a landscape infiltration treatment on the corridor between the city and Puget Sound. “The steps will be bookended by two sites for future development,” Skylab says. “The pedestrian steps and ramps will not only create an enjoyable promenade but provide access to future adjacent buildings at each floor level. The sensitive integration of indoor/outdoor space will create an accessible and inclusive environment for tenants and visitors. A plaza will be developed at the base of the steps as part of a future phase, designed to celebrate the journey from the city centre to the marina. The plaza will employ the aesthetic language of the steps and highlight the terminus of the journey from downtown. The plaza will provide recreation and respite for users as well as providing a compelling backdrop for community events such as the farmers’ market.”
The company envisions using “timeless” building materials in a contemporary fashion, including concrete, stone, steel and wood to create a neutral stage on which to highlight plants and public art.
South of the Steps the City plans to build a structure to create a more permanent space for a farmers’ market and serve as dry storage for boats. Both the Steps and the buildings will incorporate many environmental features, including green storm water treatment to enhance water quality entering Puget Sound.



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