Wednesday, October 22, 2014


Civic Skinny

Younkers project is set to start.

8/21/2013

It looks like the renovation of the Younkers store downtown — rumored for what seems like decades — is really happening. Two bond issues, totaling $24,450,000, are coming to market this week to finance the project, a construction loan has been arranged and construction is supposed to start next week.

According to the offering circular for one of the issues, the 533,289-square-foot property — which actually is two buildings taking up half a block — will be turned into 120 apartment units, commercial space on the first floor and part of the second floor, a renovated Younkers Tea Room on the sixth floor and a rooftop garden. There will be underground parking for 70 cars as well as a fitness center, a community room and a business center.

The apartments will range from one-bathroom-one-bedroom units of 674 square feet to two-bathroom-two-bedroom units of 1,209 square feet. About 60 percent of the units will be for people with limited incomes.

The rehabilitation of the 114-year-old building is a project of the Alexander Company of Madison, Wis., which “has undertaken the development, finance, design, restoration, construction, and management of over 250 buildings, both new and historic,” in the past 30 years, according to the bond statement.

The project is a textbook study in how a developer uses government grants and loans without putting up much — if any — of its own money up front. In all, the developer is raising about $53 million, though $16,190,000 of that is to quickly redeem one of the two bond issues. About half the $53 million comes from the two bond issues. Another $8.8 million comes from federal low-income housing tax credits, another $7.5 million comes from state historic and brownfield tax credits, another $5.5 million from federal historic tax credits, $3 million from Community Development Block Grant funds, nearly $1 million from an enterprise-zone tax credit and about $300,000 from something called a federal HOME program to help finance so-called affordable housing. It appears that the Alexander Company is putting in a loan — basically to itself — of $517,000 to round out the financing. It is paying itself a developer fee of $2.4 million, but it is deferring most of that.

DM Art Center

The construction itself will cost $24,630,000, according to the bond statement, and the work will be done by the Hansen Company of Des Moines. Acquisition of the building cost about $3 million, and design and engineering are in for about $2 million.

The Younkers department store was once the focal point of a thriving downtown retail business. The company was founded in Keokuk in 1856 by three Polish brothers — Lipman, Samuel and Marcus Younker — and in 1874 a fourth brother, Herman, opened the Younker Dry Good Store in Des Moines. Five years later, that became the headquarters store, and 10 years after that — in 1899 — Younkers moved to the Seventh-and-Walnut site. By 1930, through mergers and acquisitions, it was the largest department store chain in Iowa, and at various times it had department stores in 15 Iowa cities.

For years, old-timers in Des Moines referred to the store as Younker Brothers, and some still do. The store was where little boys and girls came to visit Santa Claus, where their mothers put on hats and white gloves to lunch at the Tea Room, where their fathers bought their shirts and ties and suits, where grandmas took 8-year-olds to pick out a book from the shelves on the mezzanine and where many Iowans — young and old — took their first rides on an elevator or — after 1939 — an escalator. The town’s wealthy women bought their evening gowns at The French Room (fifth floor) and the poorer ones shopped the bargains in the basement. Smartly dressed elevator operators would say “Third Floor: Lingerie, Uniforms, Babyland, Maternity Shop,” and early arrivals would sit in the comfortable leather chairs inside the Eighth Street entrance to await their lunch dates or shopping companions. At Christmastime, gawkers would crowd to look at the cheery window displays while waiting for the streetcars or buses to carry them home.

The Hubbell interests — owners of Equitable Life and the nearby Equitable Building — bought Younkers in 1979 and sold it to Proffitt’s in 1995. Ten years later, on Aug. 12, 2005, the store closed. Almost from the day it closed, people were announcing schemes to turn it into this or that. Some of the proposals came close, but, eventually, all came to naught. …

Matt Dummermuth was the U.S. Attorney in Cedar Rapids from 2007 to 2009 and before that was an assistant to an assistant attorney general of the United States. He has practiced law in Cedar Rapids off and on since graduating from Harvard Law School in 1999. He is one of 22 persons who would like to fill the vacancy on the Iowa Court of Appeals, and his application is sure to appeal to some on the newly constituted and Branstad-loaded Judicial Nominating Commission.

He knows where he stands, and he makes clear the commission knows he stands on the right. “Because I would reach and write principled decisions and would otherwise carry out the duties of Iowa Appeals Court Judge in an exemplary manner, my appointment would foster confidence in Iowa’s court system and respect for the rule of law. My appointment would bring…a firm understanding of the important but limited role of the judiciary in our representative democracy….I believe I am well-equipped to assist the Iowa Judiciary in fostering the rule of law and preserving the independence of a limited judiciary.”

“Rule of law” is code for really conservative. “The third pillar (of conservatism) is the rule of law,” according to Alfred S. Regnery’s “The Pillars of Modern American Conservatism.” “Limited judiciary” is conservative code for believing courts should not rule in favor of things like same-sex marriage or abortion or equal opportunity.

In contrast, look at the application of Jeanie Vaudt, an assistant Iowa attorney general. “Judges have a very real ability to make a positive difference in the lives of ordinary people and society in general. This vast potential for doing good and make a difference is very appealing to me. I am at a point in my career where I want to make the decision and not merely advocate for what that decision should be.”

But the most compelling argument by any applicant comes from Rebecca Saffin Parrish-Sams, a lawyer who lives in Cumming and practices in West Des Moines: “As a mother of four teenaged boys, I am practiced at keeping my composure and neutrality when presented with disputes….”

The hearings, chaired by Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins, will be interesting. …

Word is that Marshalltown’s Mark Smith, who bested Des Moines’ Rick Olson, 24-20, in the caucus vote to succeed Kevin McCarthy as head of the Democrats in the Iowa House, has let go McCarthy’s key aide, Des Moines City Councilman Brian Meyer. The move has surprised — and upset — some Democrats. …

Perry Beeman is leaving The Des Moines Register. On Monday, 32 years to the day after joining the newspaper, he starts work as editorial director at Grinnell College. “I will be editor of the alumni magazine, along with other writing and editing duties,” he reports. …

This and that:

This: There are 234,497 lane miles of highway in Iowa…covering 114,483 miles of road….There are about 2.15 million licensed drivers in Iowa — and a little more than 210 million in America, which is more than twice the 98 million licensed drivers in the nation in 1965. (There were about 1.5 million in Iowa in 1965.)

That: The reason you always seem to end up in the middle seat is this: For the past few years, the average airplane taking off from the Des Moines airport has been around 80 percent full — the total last year was 82.59 percent. Ten years ago, the planes were usually just two-thirds full.

A wag sent this to The Des Moines Register’s “Your Two Cents Worth” on Aug. 3: “Given Gannett’s and the Register’s new subscription model, will this column be renamed ‘3 Cents’ Worth’ in selected neighborhoods?” He signed it: “High Rent District.”

He is still waiting for it to run. CV

Estilo