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Civic Skinny

Kum & Go eyes downtown, Microsoft Willow Creek. U.S. Judges Gritzner and Bennett to step down

3/19/2014

Don’t be surprised if the undisclosed site of that data project being proposed for West Des Moines turns out to be the south part of Willow Creek Golf Course along Highway 5. And don’t be surprised if the company is Microsoft. …

No one will confirm anything, but the Kum & Go corporation seems poised to build a corporate building downtown on Grand Avenue, just west of the Wellmark headquarters and across the street from the Pappajohn Sculpture Garden.

The site is big enough to support a large headquarters building.

A big chunk of the land is a vacant, half-acre parcel Wellmark bought from Iowa Methodist Medical Center six years ago as a protective buffer next to its big new headquarters. Another chunk — almost an acre — is owned by the Buchanan family, which owns Scotty’s Body Shop on Linden and which bought the adjacent property on Grand Avenue in 2012 from the grandchildren of Babe Bisignano. A third piece is the small, 38-foot-wide building that houses the Subway sandwich shop on Grand and that is owned by Pardip Singh of Clive, the franchisee. He bought the building in 2012 from Rich Eychaner for around $600,000.

No transactions have been recorded. But if you ask people in the city, people in real estate, people who just always seem to know what’s going on downtown, you get a wink, a nod, a whisper — or a quick change of subject.

Adding credence to the whispers: Sharon and Kyle Krause, who runs Kum & Go and whose family owns it, have a sudden interest in downtown. In December they purchased the Arlington and Hallett apartments at 13th and Locust for $3.26 million through a limited liability company, and about 15 months ago they bought three other parcels on Locust  just south of the Sculpture Garden, as well as an abutting building on Walnut, for about $1.9 million, through another limited liability company. They have said they plan to spend millions restoring the small buildings on Locust.

Asked specifically if the Krauses or Kum & Go are looking at the land on Grand, a Kum & Go spokesperson said the Krauses “are strong supporters of the growth and revitalization of downtown Des Moines, and they are interested in preserving and protecting the real estate that surrounds the Pappajohn Sculpture Park and Western Gateway Park.”  Noting the Locust Street purchases, she added: “They’ve also looked at other properties for potential investment opportunities.”

That’s not a denial.

Unlike his father, the late Bill Krause, Kyle Krause is active in many Des Moines community projects, from the arts to economic development. He has greatly increased the company’s visibility as a corporate citizen as well as its philanthropy. And he has extricated the family from the banking business, which was a disaster — at least for many outside investors.

Kyle Krause has also overseen dramatic growth at the company. Forbes magazine ranks Kum & Go as the nation’s 177th largest privately held company with revenue of nearly $2.8 billion and with more than 4,500 employees. The company is headquartered in a 14-year-old, 40,000-square-foot building at 6400 Westown Parkway in the Dallas County part of West Des Moines. It’s unclear whether any downtown building — if indeed there will be one — would be a headquarters, though one person with close ties to City Hall says it would be.

The land now has a few small buildings on it. Scotty’s operates on Linden street, which would be the northern edge of the site, and presumably would have to relocate. The main building on Grand, the piece the Buchanans bought in 2012, has a workout center, once was a post office and was built in 1962 as Casson’s Meat Market. Casson’s was owned by Babe Bisignano, in generations past a well-known and well-liked restaurateur and raconteur, a lesser-known wrestler and boxer, a more-than-occasional bootlegger and purveyor of illegal whiskey, and a one-time slugger of Judge Harry Grund — a slug at the YMCA that resulted in a six-month jail sentence for contempt of court in the 1940s.

[Before he got into the speakeasy business, Bisignano was a professional wrestler, sometimes wrestling under the name Babe Carnera. Forty years ago, a friend asked him if he ever had an honest wrestling match. “Once,” he said. He said he and the guy he was supposed to wrestle that night were driving to Waterloo for the match, and they got into an argument about whose turn it was to win. “We couldn’t agree,” he said, so they stopped the car, walked into a cornfield and fought to see who would win. “It was the only honest fight I ever had,” he said. Bisignano died in 2005 at age 92.] …

Overlooked in the massive coverage of Iowa State’s big victory in Kansas City: The win means $100,000 to Coach Fred Hoiberg, whose contract guarantees him $50,000 for winning the Big 12 tourney and another $50,000 for getting to the NCAA. He’ll get another $25,000 for every NCAA victory. That’s on top of the $1.6 million he earned as coach this season. …

How important are absentee ballots? Without them, it would be Councilman Joe Henry, not Councilman Joe Gatto. In the special election the other day, Henry beat Gatto, 998 votes to 800 votes, at the polls, according to Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald. But Gatto’s supporters sent in 899 absentee ballots, compared to 268 for Henry. The result: Gatto 1,699, Henry 1,266. …

Two federal judges in Iowa have notified President Barack Obama that they plan to step down from full-time judging in 2015. Judge Mark Bennett, who sits in Sioux City in the northern district of Iowa, and Chief Judge Jim Gritzner of the southern district in Des Moines, plan to take senior status, meaning they can work when, and generally where, they want to. Bennett, who turns 65 next year, was appointed to the bench by President Bill Clinton in 1994; Gritzner, who will be 68 next year, was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2001.

The resignations mean that departing Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin probably will have the chance to recommend replacements before he leaves office next January, which could have a lasting impact on judicial decisions in Iowa. At least, there’s precedence for that: Judge Bob Pratt announced in 2012 that he was moving to senior status, and Harkin did make a recommendation to President Obama before Pratt actually stepped down. Obama took the recommendation and appointed Stephanie Rose to the seat in Des Moines five months before Pratt changed status.

If Obama doesn’t act this year, the recommendations probably would fall to Bruce  Braley if Braley wins the November race to succeed Harkin. If Braley loses, or if Democrats don’t retain control of the United States Senate, then the role of Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley “is enhanced, notwithstanding the obvious fact that it will always remain the president’s constitutional role to nominate judges,” says a guy who is schooled in such transitions.

At any rate, those who want the jobs are quietly making it known — as are, apparently, those who don’t want the job. CV

 

COMMENT: David Maxwell

David Maxwell will be a hard act to follow.

Since becoming president of Drake University in 1999, he has put the university on solid footing, expanded the campus, built the endowment, soothed the faculty and — perhaps most important — made Drake a part of Des Moines.

As a 17-year-old from New York, he traveled through Russia with the Benny Goodman band — his father was a well-known trumpet player — as the musical equivalent of a batboy. While there, he met a U.S. diplomat and decided that when he grew up he wanted a job like that man had. So he decided to study Russian.

He received a bachelor’s degree in Russian-area studies from Grinnell in 1966 — an uncle at New York University urged him to go to Grinnell — then got advanced degrees in Slavic languages and literatures from Brown. After various stops at universities and think tanks, he arrived at Drake. It was not a thriving institution. It was, in fact, a mediocre island in a declining neighborhood with a dispirited faculty, looming financial problems and not much of a reputation.

By last week, when Maxwell announced he would leave in mid-2015, Drake had become a prosperous and growing institution with a fine physical plant in a revived neighborhood. The faculty is strong, and the student body is smart. Maxwell both streamlined the university and expanded it, spent millions to rebuild the campus and raised even more millions to rebuild the balance sheet.

Maxwell, who is as quick and funny as he is smart and strategic, engaged with the community, and so did Drake. The university’s Bucksbaum  lectures draw large crowds — as will functions at the new Harkin Institute — and its expanded athletic venues have become pleasant places to visit. Its faculty and students get involved in local projects — and a surprisingly large number of its out-of-state students decide to stay in Des Moines after graduation.

A few years ago, Maxwell gave a talk to the graduating seniors. He talked about going out into the world and about being happy and making a difference. “I do not measure my success or my happiness by job title or salary or prestige,” he told them. “My metric is whether or not it mattered that I was here.”

It mattered. CV

— Michael Gartner

Barmuda