Proposed Downtown High Rises Change Plans, with One Going Taller

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DES MOINES, Iowa - Two towers are set to rise around the same time in downtown Des Moines - transforming the city skyline as a result. 

"If you think about the skyline of Des Moines, it hasn't changed for over 20 years," said Justin Mandelbaum, with Mandelbaum Properties. "It's time to do something about that."

Mandelbaum Properties is set to transform the old city parking garage on Fifth and Walnut Streets into "The Fifth," a 32-story high-rise that will also include a parking garage, boutique hotel, and movie theater. Originally, the plans for the $110 million project included a jazz club, daycare, and rock climbing wall on the lower level of the tower. Mandelbaum says those were replaced with the addition of a boutique hotel as plans evolved. 

"So, the fundamental vision of the project remains the same," he said. "So it's modern, upscale high-rise living, a high-end movie theater, and a parking garage. What's tweaked is the position of the tower, instead of being on top of the parking garage, is now on the ground. And that's allowed us to insert a high-end boutique hotel into the base of the tower, and by doing so, we've lost the space to do some of the other things, like a jazz club, and a daycare, and a climbing gym."

Mandelbaum's project was set to become the tallest residential tower in the city, but a project by Blackbird Investments just a few blocks over is now taking that title. 

"Previously we've referred to it as the 701 Tower," said Ryan Doyle, a partner at Blackbird Investments. "Internally we've been talking about it and decided calling it The Blackbird, the name of our company, allows us to really set it up as a legacy product for us, and really put our full reputation behind what we're producing here." 

The Blackbird was originally set to stand at 26 stories tall. The $120 million project that sits on the grounds of the former Younkers building will now stand 33 stories tall - inching out The Fifth by one story, and becoming the third-tallest building in the state, behind 801 Grand and the Ruan building. It barely beats out the Marriott Hotel, which is also 33 stories, but won't quite match The Blackbird's height. 

"It's exciting to be a part of the development community in Des Moines at a time when two large towers - the size of which haven't been done for 25 years in Des Moines - are able to be proposed and built," Doyle said. 

And there's no bad blood, or "sky war," happening between the two new projects or their developers. 

"I think it's fantastic! Their building is beautiful, and to have that extra height, and to have it peak above the surrounding buildings is going to be great for the skyline, so it's all good," Mandelbaum said. "We have a 150 year history in Des Moines, we're proud of our city, and for better or worse, a lot of folks judge a city on its skyline, and it's exciting to be a part of that transformation."

Both projects are set to break ground this summer. A 26-month timeline for The Blackbird, and a 30-month timeline for The Fifth, mean Des Moines will watch both of these new towers come to life at about the same time, closer to 2020. 

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