Friday, June 21, 2024

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Civic Skinny

Spendy condos, a history of Iowa’s closed colleges, and investments in Highland Park


After a long delay, sales prices have been recorded for the high-end Grand Avenue condominiums developed by Harry Bookey and Pamela Bass-Bookey.

The Kathleen J. Fehrman Revocable Trust paid $2,838,799 for a unit that takes up half of the top floor in the eight-story building at 3750 Grand Ave. (Or, as the sign says, “3750 ON Grand.”) Fehrman is the developer of the Oak Park restaurant under construction a few blocks away on Ingersoll and is a commissioner and former chair of the Iowa Department of Transportation. According to the DOT, she is also the managing partner of Fehrman Investments, LLC.

Fehrman is married to Bill Fehrman, the president and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway Energy, which owns MidAmerican Energy in Des Moines as well as energy companies throughout the world.

According to county records, the Fehrmans’ new condo has ten rooms spanning 5,685 square feet — about 15% larger than a basketball court. It has three bedrooms, three-and-a-half baths and five “extra bathroom fixtures,” whatever that means. It also has two fireplaces (or maybe three, the filing is unclear) as well as a “scullery” and a “wine cave.” It has a 595-square-foot balcony. The price includes four indoor parking spots.

The Bookeys themselves have the second-costliest unit in the building, which sits on the south side of Grand, incorporates parts of the old Christian Science Church there and has unimpeded views in every direction. The Bookeys have a quarter of the top floor as well as a unit beneath that. They appear to have paid their development company $1,866,200 for the combined units, which have three bedrooms, three and-a-half baths, and two fireplaces. They also own a unit on the first floor as well as six indoor and five outdoor parking spots, according to the filings.

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The other quarter of the top floor, a 2,771-square-foot apartment configured as one bedroom and one-and-a-half baths, is owned by Katherine Elsner and Steven Adelman. They paid $1,603,763, which includes two indoor parking spots. The apartment has a balcony and a fireplace but no wine cave.

Others who spent more than $1 million for units at 3750 Grand include Colleen Burgeson ($1,274,000), Douglas Jeske ($1,234,800) and Mark Feldmann ($1,078,000). Their units all are on the seventh floor. The remaining seventh-floor unit was purchased by Daniel Boettcher, who paid $980,000, according to county records.

The lowest price paid for a unit in the building was the $342,100 for an 1,116-square-foot unit on the third floor, which is the lowest residential floor. The purchasers were Dylan Lampe and Matthew Roghair.

Until the sales of the units at 3750 Grand, the highest price paid for an apartment in Des Moines was the $1,428,800 Chuck Johnson paid in 2007 for a 4,600-square-foot unit at the top of the Equitable Building downtown. …

Iowa Wesleyan, the second-oldest university in the state of Iowa, announced it will be closing its doors at the end of the fall semester. That’s somewhat rare. And tremendously unfortunate. After educating students for 181 years, the university announced it won’t be able to remain open due to rising costs, a lack of fundraising and a denied request from Gov. Kim Reynolds for $12 million from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Iowa Wesleyan will celebrate the graduating class of 2023 with its final commencement ceremony on May 6, recognizing more than 120 undergraduate and graduate students. 

Gov. Reynolds stated in a press release that she denied the financial request after engaging an independent third-party accounting firm that said, “Providing one-time, federal funds would not solve the systemic financial issues plaguing the university.”

This news comes as a disappointment, and somewhat of a surprise, considering the recent rise in the university’s enrollment numbers. In September of 2021, the university’s website reported enrollment was up 15% from the previous semester, bringing the total number of students to 835. This was the largest increase in enrollment in eight decades, according to Meg Richtmen, vice president for enrollment, marketing and communications.

The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education states that Iowa has 60 active colleges. Overall, sixteen colleges that originated in the state have closed since the first, Tabor College, was founded in 1853. A website maintained by Ray Brown, Ph.D., of Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, includes information about more than 80 defunct Iowa institutions including Capital City Commercial College in Des Moines, Vennard College in Oskaloosa and Sioux Empire College in Hawarden.

The most recent college closure was in 2016 when AIB College of Business, located in Des Moines, closed its doors after being a mainstay in Des Moines for 95 years. Similarly to Iowa Wesleyan, AIB also struggled with rising operating costs and a lack of resources from the state.

In 2015, AIB was “gifted” to the University of Iowa with hopes of turning the campus into a more central location for students who lived or worked in the capital city. However, after offering classes for two years, the University decided to sell the buildings in 2018 to The Village at Grays Lake LLC. …

Invest DSM’s goal has been to rejuvenate and improve Des Moines neighborhoods with funding from the City of Des Moines, as well as Polk County. That sounds nice. The four neighborhoods they’re attempting to improve are Oak Park/Highland Park, Drake, Franklin Area, and Columbus Park.

The most recent project announced is a major development site for Highland Park on the southwest corner of Euclid Avenue and Sixth Avenue. Invest DSM Executive Director Amber Lynch said that early rough estimates show the project could cost upwards of $10 million. 

Lynch said ideas for the site include having a space for mixed-use activities, a ground floor for retail (a growing trend in recent projects) and two to three floors for housing. These units would boast affordable housing along with other units being set at market rate.

Invest DSM has been involved in the neighborhood. After seeing several new businesses opening up and older ones reopening, a new need for housing arose. Invest DSM also has several programs that have allowed them to continue building the community. 

One of these programs is the Block Challenge Grant, which encourages groups of at least five neighbors within a visible distance of one another’s front door to come together to make exterior improvements on their properties. Invest DSM will match $1,000 to $2,500 for those who participate. …

More Iowans are working. At least according to the unemployment rate in Iowa, which dropped from 2.9 percent in February to 2.8 percent in March. This matches the 0.1 percent change that occurred nationally with the U.S., dropping from 3.6 to 3.5. The labor force participation in Iowa rose to 68.2%, with the state adding 2,700 new workers. That makes the total number of working Iowans 1,675,000 in March, which is 2,000 more than this time last year. …

A CITYVIEW reader pointed out to Skinny a discovery on the Iowa Legislature website directory. Public officials such as the state’s senators and house representatives traditionally have information available to the public on the directory. These items include emails, phone numbers, addresses, etc. Until now. Upon inspection, every Iowa House member’s address was missing. CITYVIEW made calls to the capitol but were unable to receive a solid answer as to why the change was made or who made it. We were told that members of the Iowa Senate are required to have their address be public knowledge, but House members have the option to omit such information. ♦

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