Monday, March 27, 2023

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Civic Skinny

Kaleidoscope, Val Air, Gas Lamp. ION program. $20k Super Bowl spot. DMAC director. MWA audit.


The abandoned east Kaleidoscope building at 515 Walnut St., now permanently closed, could soon be demolished to make way for a new addition to the downtown Des Moines skyline. Local developer Joe Teeling of Saint Joseph Group announced resurrected plans for 515 Walnut Tower, a mixed income multi-family project on behalf of not-for-profit St. Kevin Foundation. The plans are being transitioned over to Saint Joseph by Blackbird Investments, which first proposed the high-rise in 2016 — originally at the former Younkers site.

Kaleidoscope at the Hub opened in 1985. First operated by Hubbell Realty, it passed through the hands of EMC Insurance before Blackbird acquired it in 2018 and terminated all remaining leases within the struggling mall and food court the following year. U.S. Bank, a 17-year tenant in the building, sued the investment company for failing to pay nearly $100,000 as designated by their lease termination agreement. Amid distrust caused by this and other legal and financial missteps, the City of Des Moines terminated its agreement with Blackbird in June 2020.

Saint Joseph Group estimates the current project at $140 million to $145 million. At 33 stories, the new tower will be the third-tallest building in Des Moines, behind the 45-story Principal Building at 801 Grand and 36-floor Ruan Center. It will include 390 housing units, including 78 affordable housing units, and 1,400 square feet of first-floor commercial space. Redevelopment work is expected to begin in the summer, with completion in 2025. …

Yet another building will be revived in the Des Moines metro, this time under the vision of local music promoter Samuel Summers. He purchased Val Air Ballroom in early 2022 for $1.9 million and is planning a $14.5 million renovation. The project will be complete by January 2024 and increase the property’s assessed value to at least $5.5 million. It is currently valued at $1.4 million and includes the 30,956 square-foot building on 8.5 acres, according to the Polk County Assessor.

The 84-year-old venue on Ashworth Road in West Des Moines formerly housed the Wilson Rubber Factory during World War I. In June 1918, it opened as an open-air dance hall — hence, its name. Big band and jazz legends who played at Val Air included Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Glenn Miller and Guy Lombardo. Major renovations began in 1954, and the “new” venue opened: air-conditioned, heated and open year-round. The 1950s saw stars like Chubby Checker, The Everly Brothers and Brenda Lee.

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In this past year, under the direction of Summers, Val Air has hosted artists ranging from rock to blues to country. Summers, who founded First Fleet Concerts while a student at Iowa State University, also operates Wooly’s in the East Village, organizes the popular Hinterland Music Festival and co-owns downtown arcade bar, Up-Down. …

As one venue is revived, another closes. Western Gateway music venue, Gas Lamp, announced it will close its doors for good on July 9, citing its struggling financial recovery post-pandemic and uncertainty of its future.

“As most of you have noticed, they have been revitalizing the area recently, and our building will be one of the next to be renovated,” the venue shared via an unsigned Facebook post. “While we do not know the exact timeline, we do know that Gas Lamp is not a part of the final plan.”

The building at 1501 Grand Ave., formerly known as the Butler Building, is owned by Krause Group, the parent company of Kum & Go. Gas Lamp opened in 2011 and has most recently been co-owned by James Thyberg and Ryan Flattery. The Butler Building has had a long history housing music before Gas Lamp; it was the former home of Blues on Grand, the Grand Avenue Lounge and Vicky’s Pour House. …

And on the residential side, the City of Des Moines recently launched its “Improving Our Neighborhoods” (ION) initiative. The program will provide financial help for property owners tackling necessary home repairs. The goals of ION are to prevent the value of neighboring homes from diminishing and reduce the number of nuisance properties in the city.

For 2023, $3.5 million have been earmarked to help fund repairs, City Manager Scott Sanders shared in a press release. The ION program will focus on approximately 4,000 identified properties. Repairs are limited to the home’s exterior. Properties must be within city limits, insured, and current on taxes, utilities and mortgage payments. Homeowner income must fall below 80% of the Area Median Income: $70,950 for a household of three in Polk County. …

If you watched the Super Bowl last month, you may have noticed a commercial from Catch Des Moines, the metro’s convention and visitors bureau and sports commission. The video, titled “Believe the Hype,” highlighted the city as a destination for sporting events. Catch Des Moines forked over $20,000 for the ad to air locally during the nation’s biggest sporting event — or 1.6% of the organization’s advertising budget, Marketing Vice President Brock Konrad told the Business Record.

The 30-second ad aired only in central Iowa. According to Fox Sports, a 30-second commercial on the national stage costs between $6 million and $7 million. …

The Des Moines Art Center is celebrating its 75th anniversary year and the arrival of a new director in Dr. Kelly Baum. She will take over in May, filling the vacancy left by Jeff Fleming who served as the Art Center’s director for 25 years. The John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park came to Des Moines under his leadership.

Baum most recently worked at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and has served as a curator of modern and contemporary art for 23 years. On top of The Met, she has held positions at the Princeton University of Art Museum, the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. Baum holds both a Ph.D. and M.A. in art history from the University of Delaware. …

When it comes to funding waste collection in several metro communities, where does it go? Metro Waste Authority (MWA) recently released its 2021-2022 financial audit. Excluding depreciation and amortization, operating expenses totaled $32.4 million — an increase of $4.1 million, or 14.7%, from the previous year.

MWA’s operating revenues amounted to $52.4 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2022, an increase of 19% from 2021. MWA employee compensation totaled $7.45 million in 2022, up from $5.85 million in 2021. Cash received from customers totaled $49.66 million in 2022, compared to $43.43 million the year prior.

An independent government agency, MWA is self-funded through fees charged to those who use its services. Revenue comes from Metro Park East Landfill, Metro Park West Landfill, Metro Recycling Facility, Metro Central Transfer Station, Metro Northwest Transfer Station, Metro Compost Center, Metro Hazardous Waste Drop-Off and the Curb It! curbside recycling program.

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