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Buyers snap up Waterstreet condos


Mike Bean and his wife, Dee DePhillips, spent a fair amount of time debating the idea of moving from a suburban home in the woods to a fourth-floor residence in downtown Des Moines before finally buying a $412,000 condominium unit in the yet-to-be-finished Waterstreet Brownstones.

They’re lucky they didn’t debate much longer, because the high-end units are all sold.

“All 10 of the units priced over $310,000 are sold, and there are at least 10 people with extreme interest on the waiting list,” said leasing and sales agent B.J. Knapp of Iowa Realty. “The developers from Minneapolis [The Lander Group] didn’t expect this. Up there, it’s the opposite; the most-affordable units sell first.”

The Waterstreet Brownstones/Vine Street Lofts project had the smell of disaster when fire wiped out the first construction efforts a year ago, so this spring’s sales reports are especially surprising. “Interest never diminished after the fire,” Knapp said. In recent months, the typical week sees one unit leased and one sold in the Brownstones, 100 First St., and the adjacent Lofts, 100 Second Ave. The condos range from 1,200-2,700 square feet and vary in price from $170,000-$450,000. At Vine Street, apartment renters choose from 650-1,200 square feet, with monthly rates from $500-$1,200.

Construction halted last week when some local trade unions went on strike.

For condo buyers and would-be buyers, Knapp said, “we’re getting empty-nesters who are still working, not retirees. A few are looking at this as a second home.”

Bean and DePhillips fit the empty-nester profile perfectly. They have more than 3,000 square feet of living space in their current house, which sits on a 1.4-acre lot in the Deer Creek area of Urbandale, surrounded by acres of trees.

The couple’s six children are grown and gone. “We’re wandering around in the halls, just us two and our Yorkshire terrier,” said Bean. Just as important, he’s had enough of driving back and forth every day to his job as a first vice president at Smith Barney, 801 Grand Ave. “That starts wearing on you, especially in the dead of winter,” said Bean, a Des Moines native who graduated from Drake University.

The chance to buy with a 10-year tax abatement was a huge enticement, too. As a financial consultant, Bean quickly saw that the arrangement is worth tens of thousands of dollars.

But it was their son Tony Ranallo who first started them thinking seriously about the move. He bought a Waterstreet condo through Knapp, a longtime friend, and then started recruiting his parents to move in next door.

They finally made the leap, having become convinced that the downtown area is headed in a desirable direction. “I’ve traveled quite a bit, and I’ve seen what happened in cities like St. Louis and San Antonio when they revitalized their riverfronts,” Bean said. “Nobody wants to be a lone wolf when these projects are just getting started, but once you get enough residents there and enough scale, people feel confident that they can put a business there.

“I’m 55, so I’m going to work a few more years. I’m looking forward to walking to work, basically on the skywalk.” He’ll have to walk a couple of blocks outside to reach the skywalk system, then the rest of his commute will be indoors.

Bean and DePhillips will have 2,600 square feet, two and a half bathrooms and a view of the Des Moines River and the state Capitol.

Future fellow downtown dwellers apparently will have several addresses to choose among. The ever-growing list of downtown projects includes the Hatch/Knapp condos planned at East Third and Locust streets, the Soho Lofts planned at East Fourth and Locust streets, the 10th Street Lofts at 110 10th St. and the conversion of the Kirkwood Hotel, Fourth and Walnut streets, into apartments.

“Moving downtown is a big leap for a lot of people. Sometimes when we mention it to friends, they gasp,” Bean said. “But then some of them say, ‘Maybe we ought to do that.’”  

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