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Construction to begin next fall on mixed-use project near Drake


A five-story mixed-use project is planned at 25th Street and Carpenter Avenue, just east of Drake University in Des Moines. Construction is expected to begin next fall. Rendering by Slingshot Architecture
Construction is expected to begin in fall 2022 on the first phase of the redevelopment of a one-block area east of Drake University in Des Moines.

The project by Merge Urban Development, a Cedar Falls firm partnering with Drake, includes the construction of two five-story mixed-used buildings on the north half of a block bounded by 24th and 25th streets and University and Carpenter avenues.

The buildings, with a total of 110,000 square feet, will include 116 apartment units, office space and street-level commercial level space. A similar project is planned on the southern half of the block at a later date.

The project’s first phase is expected to cost $22 million.

The project was first announced in June 2019 during a news conference held on Drake’s campus.

“This is going to transform the Dogtown corridor,” Drake President Marty Martin said at the time. Dogtown “is a great arts, culture, commercial district, and this is really going to supercharge that.”

Drake owns all but three parcels in the block. The university will sell the land to Merge Urban Development, according to a city document. Two parcels on the block are owned by U.S. Bank; the other is owned by Varsity Cinema LLC. Neither property owner plans to sell, and they both will remain on the block, according to the city document.

The theater is being renovated, a project that is expected to be completed in early 2022.

U.S. Bank “was unwilling to work with us on a transition out of their current space,” Brent Dahlstrom, managing partner of Merge Urban Development, wrote in an email. The roadblock delayed the project and caused the redesign of the project, Dahlstrom wrote.

U.S. Bank officials could not be reached for comment.

The Des Moines City Council this week approved preliminary terms of a development agreement with Merge Urban Development, which would receive up to $5 million in tax increment financing over 15 years. The council on Feb. 7 will hold a public hearing on designating the area as an urban renewal area. If approved, the project will be able to receive the tax incentives.

Merge Urban Development also has received workforce housing tax credits from the Iowa Finance Authority.

Residential units will include studios and one- and two-bedroom units. Twenty percent of the units will be rented at what are deemed affordable rates; the remainder will be market rate.

The project will include four electric vehicle charging stations and rooftop solar arrays.
Construction is expected to be completed by spring 2024. Slingshot Architecture is the project’s architect; Bolton + Menk is its landscape architect.

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