- Associated Press - Sunday, March 30, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - When Steve King, deputy state historic preservation officer, looks at the Des Moines Riverfront YMCA, he sees a downtown landmark and an example of midcentury architecture, an era that emphasized functionality and clean building lines.

“From my perspective, the Riverfront Y is a great example of the architecture of its time,” said King (not to be confused with Iowa’s congressman of the same name). “I would love to see it maintained.”

But when city leaders and developers look at the YMCA, they see prime real estate, a plot begging to be redeveloped into a glassy high-rise when the Y moves to a new downtown location next year.

The Des Moines Register reports (http://dmreg.co/1haFl5C ) that among those conflicting views, it appears those who favor demolishing the 57-year-old YMCA to clear the way for redevelopment will get their wish.

Two unnamed potential buyers are preparing proposals to demolish the YMCA and build a mixed-use development with retail space and housing, said Linda Gibbs, one of the listing agents for the property and a senior vice president with CBRE/Hubbell Commercial. One is a national development group; the other is a private investor from outside the state, she said.

A third developer has also expressed interest, and a fourth, a local development team, had inquired about refurbishing the YMCA but pulled out when it became clear city leaders wanted to see the land redeveloped, Gibbs said.

The 1.8-acre site at 101 Locust St. is the only downtown plot along the Des Moines River open for redevelopment.

“It has tremendous value from that standpoint,” Gibbs said.

The YMCA of Greater Des Moines is asking $5.5 million for the property. Y officials hope to have a buyer by the fall.

The Y is scheduled to move into its new branch in the former Polk County convention complex at 501 Grand Ave. in January.

Both development teams are expected to take their proposals to city leaders for feedback within 30 to 45 days, Gibbs said.

The YMCA board ultimately will decide to whom to sell the property. Input from city leaders, though, figures to be important, as plans to redevelop the site will require approval from city boards. The property, for instance, would need to be rezoned if the developers want to exceed the 75-foot building restriction.

Assistant City Manager Matt Anderson said he doesn’t think refurbishing the Riverfront Y is feasible.

The eight-story residential tower lacks sprinklers and air conditioning and was built as a dormitory, with small rooms and shared bathrooms.

The athletic facilities - a maze of hallways, gyms and exercise rooms - are too boxy to be converted into retail or office space, he said.

Story Continues →