NEW PURPOSE: Downtown Buildings Revived

Walking around downtown Des Moines you’ll find crews working on several buildings, the structures aren’t just getting an update, many are getting a new purpose.

Every building has a story. Mike Nelson with Nelson Construction Services says, “The Fleming Building was designed by one of the United States’ most famous architects, Daniel Burnham.”

Nelson is giving the more than century old building on Walnut Street a major makeover. Crews are repurposing the eleven story structure, turning what used to be office space into living space. Nelson says, “We hope that the Fleming Building will become both a great mixture of historical fabric and new apartments for people to live.”

Nelson says 96 apartments will be available this year, ranging from studios that cost $650 a month to two bedrooms that will rent for $1,400. He says, “Our amenities include a world class theater room where we’ll have an 80 inch plasma TV.”

Nelson is also working on the Des Moines building. The Equitable, Younkers and J.C Penny buildings are also a few in the process of being repurposed. Glenn Lyons with the Downtown Community Alliance says that helps with another problem. “It helps in the office market because we have less vacancies, so there’s more competition for less space, but it really helps downtown mature and become a more exciting place,” he explained.

Working in old buildings creates some challenges. For instance, crews had to add two stairwells to bring the Fleming Building up to code. Nelson says, “The buildings are equally as complicated to construct as they are to finance.”

Nelson says city, state and federal credits helped finance the Fleming project, including those that helped remove asbestos and lead. Planning took longer because the building is protected by the National Park Service. But, Nelson says the extra work is worth it. He says, “You couldn’t reproduce this building with any amount of money, and so, it’s something we know will stand long after we’re gone. And, we’re proud to begin hopefully its next 100 years.”

Nelson says repurposing old buildings also keeps building materials out of the landfill. He says it would take a family 2,000 years to produce the same amount of trash as tearing down an old building.

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