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Capitol Lofts developer moves forward


Lofts now available following construction delays

Developer Bernard Van Til, managing director of the investment group Preservation Properties LLC, likes to use the old adage “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” It’s a phrase that has sustained him through the trials he’s experienced in his latest business venture, the development of the Capitol Lofts, a $2.6 million residential property located at 501-507 E. Locust St. in downtown Des Moines’ burgeoning East Village.

Despite legal disputes with contractors and the loss of potential federal funding after withdrawing an application for historical landmark status, Van Til said his investment group is now accepting applications for the building’s 10 rental apartments and 10 condominiums for sale.   “We’re ready to move forward,” he said. “We could have rented these apartments three times over. It’s embarrassing how long it has taken. We’ve had terrible issues related to construction delays, but if you left us your name and number a while ago, call me tomorrow.”

The soft lofts, open living spaces with enclosed “high-end” bathrooms as opposed to hard lofts that feature enclosed rooms, feature contemporary amenities and urban designs including red brick walls spotted with rough plaster, industrial-style metal lighting fixtures, 10-foot to 12-foot-high ceilings, new kitchen appliances, wooden floors and wooden window treatments, as well as large windows that offer tenants a view of downtown.

“We’re proud of it,” said Marcia Grant-Van Til, who is a partner with her husband in the project. “We think it’s very nice. The East Side is starting to bloom and we feel like a contributing factor. When the [Principal] Riverwalk goes in near here, it will be even better. It’s exciting to see something you’ve worked so hard on come to fruition.”

Van Til hopes the 20 residential units, which will be above ground-floor commercial space mostly occupied by Projects Contemporary Furniture and a basement likely to include laundry facilities, storage areas and a community recreational room, will appeal to the city’s young adults and artists. He said those not in search of a unique urban setting need not apply.

“We’re looking for 20 creative people to live here,” he said. “If you have a flexible, creative lifestyle, this is the place to be. We’re selling a lifestyle; we’re not selling bricks and mortar.”

The real difference, he said, is how tenants view themselves.

“We’re going to attract people that have a creative soul,” he said. “We see our customer as someone who works downtown where they can walk to work and they hate traffic.”

Eric Wickes, an artist from Philadelphia who moved to Des Moines two years ago, said the Capitol Lofts remind him of those found in his native city. He moved into a one-bedroom apartment in March, and the money he earns by working at the Kavanaugh Art Gallery in West Des Moines and from sales of his own paintings allows him to pay his bills. He said the rental rate and amenities at Capitol Lofts are as competitive as those found at any apartment complex in the metropolitan area.

“This is very stylish and fairly affordable,” he said. “I like being in the city. You’re not too far from anything in Des Moines.”

Van Til said the apartments rent for $550 to $700 per month. One-room condominiums, with more than 1,000 square feet, will sell for between $80,000 and $125,000, and two-bedroom condos could fetch at least $200,000. Those rates, Van Til said, are competitive.

“That’s 15 to 20 percent below the Brown-Camps [Lofts], which are the only ones to compare to,” he said. “These would be a poor man’s Brown-Camps.”

The 55-year-old Michigan native, who moved to Des Moines five years ago, has 25 years of experience in the real estate business. In 2000, he said, his investment firm paid $288,000 for the Syndicate Building, now home to the Capitol Lofts. The development group has invested in construction, including the demolition of a neighboring building, the addition of a balcony, updating the building’s original elevator and several other updates. Van Til said it would have been up to 30 percent cheaper to tear the building down and construct a new one rather than make renovations, but Preservation Properties wanted to preserve the building’s heritage. The group received $115,000 from the city of Des Moines to defray construction costs.

“We have to start saving buildings or our history will be gone,” he said.  Van Til said he thinks the East Village will become the art community of Des Moines, which is why he believes now is the time to build lofts there.

“There’s a huge vacuum here for loft apartments,” he said. “This is a great opportunity for the East Side and for a historical building to be reused.”  

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