Downtown Des Moines Undergoes a Gradual Metamorphosis

Things are happening downtown. A number of public and private initiatives are transforming downtown Des Moines from a place to work to a place where you can truly live, work and play.

Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield recently moved into its new 600,000-square-foot LEED Platinum-certified office building fronting the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park, and Principal Financial announced a $250 million renovation of its existing downtown campus.
In addition, EMC Insurance Cos. recently added to its downtown footprint by purchasing the Hub Tower and Kaleidoscope at the Hub, the centerpiece of the new Walnut Street transformation. Finally, Nationwide Insurance is firmly entrenched in its 1 million-square-foot campus building.
New Home For YMCA
Adding to the momentum is a three-way sale and trade fueled by a public/private partnership spearheaded by Des Moines real estate leader William C. Knapp, chairman emeritus of Knapp Properties.
Included is an approximate $30 million project for a downtown Wellmark YMCA to be located in the former Polk County Convention Complex. According to The Des Moines Register, construction is expected to begin by year’s end on the YMCA’s new downtown home, which will include expanded recreational offices and a 50-meter, Olympic-sized swimming pool.
YMCA supporters have raised roughly 90 percent of the expected $30 million construction cost, according to the newspaper. The money includes expected revenue from the sale of the current Riverfront YMCA property.
In addition, Polk County will take over the former Wellmark office facility at Fifth Avenue and Walnut Street, and will convert that 200,000-square-foot- building into a new Polk County Courthouse and Sheriff’s Office.
Polk County has purchased this building and the Polk County Supervisors are taking action to authorize an $85 million remodeling of the former Wellmark property and the restoration of the existing courthouse.
These moves open up the former YMCA site fronting the Principal River Walk and Des Moines River, which will offer a phenomenal site for additional development.
Not to be left out of the picture, a new project has been announced in Des Moines’ growing East Village, which has been an eclectic mix of retail, apartments and condominiums. Des Moines businessman Jim Cownie and developer Tim Rypma will build market-rate apartments anchored by retail on the first floor.
Dramatic Turnaround
Office occupancy is moving in the right direction. The Hub Tower has gone from 15 percent to 50 percent occupancy in 18 months with 120,000 square feet of new leases. Having just purchased the Kaleidoscope at the end of 2012, and now servicing three new tenants at that location, EMC Insurance Cos. is evaluating renovation options of the Kaleidoscope Mall including new street retail storefronts fronting Walnut.
Additionally, downtown Des Moines is in the final stages of a request for proposals (RFPs) for a downtown convention center hotel, which will be attached to the new Wells Fargo Arena and Hy-Vee Hall. This area is targeted as a future entertainment district.
Finally, over 1,000 apartments and condo units will join the growing downtown housing market through 2013 and into 2014 as former office buildings and warehouses are transformed into residential developments.
The outlook for the remainder of 2013 is extremely promising for greater Des Moines as insurance, financial services and agricultural businesses continue to fuel growth, and the downtown gears up for the future.
— Kevin Crowley, commercial sales manager, Iowa Realty Commercial
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