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DES MOINES, Iowa — Major changes are coming to the Court Avenue Entertainment District starting next weekend. Des Moines and Polk County officials on Friday announced plans to create an enclosed “entertainment zone” in the Court Avenue District on weekends this summer.

Starting May 21 through Sept. 4, parts of Court Avenue will be closed off to vehicle traffic on Fridays and Saturdays from 9 p.m. and 2 a.m. This will create an enclosed entertainment zone open for people 21+ to enjoy bars and restaurants in the area. Organizers say the road closures will allow establishments to expand patio seating and provide room for outdoor entertainment such as DJs and live music.

As part of the changes, a two-block area of Court Avenue surrounding 3rd Street will be fenced off to traffic starting on May 21 and remain on weekends throughout the summer.

In order to enter the entertainment zone, visitors age 21+ will be required to pass through a gate with a photo ID and security screening. Admission to the entertainment zone will be free.

The Court Avenue Entertainment Zone (WHO 13)

Organizers envision DJs or live music in the streets at least once a month on the weekends to create a “festival-type atmosphere.”

“This is a similar approach that other cities including Milwaukee and Kansas City have in place at
popular bar and restaurant districts and have proved to be successful,” said Polk County Supervisor Tom Hockensmith. “Additionally, the added security will ensure patrons feel safe while visiting the Court Avenue district.”

Hockensmith said temporary fencing around the area will be set up on Friday afternoons and taken down early Sunday morning. Vehicles will be able to leave the area once gates are in place. The road closures will prevent access to some on-street parking, so visitors are encouraged to park at nearby parking ramps.

“This plan offers a safe, expanded entertainment atmosphere so guests and visitors can enjoy our beautiful downtown area with a more pedestrian friendly environment,” Mayor Frank Cownie said.

The creation of the entertainment zone comes after recent shootings at the Court Avenue District on weekends. Two women were hospitalized after getting shot inside a building at 216 Court Avenue on April 25. Three people were injured in a shooting in the 200 block of 3rd Street on April 10.

In the first four months of 2021, police calls to the Court Avenue area were up 5%. That includes a sharp increase in the number of fights, shootings and reports of a “person down,” according to the Des Moines Police Department. Some Court Avenue employees have expressed concerns for their safety while working in the entertainment district on weekends.

“Part of this initiative is going to have additional cameras that we’re going to add for security reasons,” Hockensmith said. Additional security cameras will also be added to the nearby parking ramps.

The City of Des Moines, the Polk County Board of Supervisors, the Greater Des Moines Partnership, Catch Des Moines and the Court Avenue District all collaborated to create the new entertainment zone.