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Court Avenue housing proposal clears another hurdle


Unless another developer unexpectedly enters the fray, Jim Hubbell and Harry Bookey appear to be on track to get city approval of their latest Court Avenue redevelopment proposal. With a minimum of comment, the Des Moines City Council last week directed the city manager’s office to use that plan as the basis for any new proposals and set an Oct. 15 deadline for submitting them.

The plan calls for at least 120 residential units south of Court Avenue along both sides of Fourth Street, with commercial use on the ground floor of a building to be constructed on the southeast corner of Fourth and Court.

Hubbell and Bookey’s joint venture, Court Avenue Partners II L.P., also wants to renovate the upper floors of the Spaghetti Works building at 310 Court Ave. for apartments and create a restaurant/entertainment venue nearby. Those projects are separate from the new construction.

The city plans to provide upfront subsidies of about $5 million toward the new residential buildings – a commitment that probably would be reduced by money from a federal block grant program — and $1 million split between the Spaghetti Works project and the restaurant/entertainment project. Ongoing subsidies would total another $2 million, but that money would come from tax dollars generated by the completed projects.

Parking issues could be a sticking point. The city wants to hold on to the vacant area south of the Spaghetti Works and fronting Third Street if the developer proposes surface parking there. That would give the city the option of selling the land for future development.

However, Hubbell said the Court Avenue Partners proposal requires permanent parking on that space.

Council members Archie Brooks and Tom Vlassis passed rather than voting for or against the item at last week’s meeting. Vlassis said during the meeting that a “yes” vote on his part would be in favor of reopening the project for bids but not in favor of Court Avenue Partners’ proposal.

Brooks said later, “This project has changed drastically, and if I had this one on the table compared to the one we turned down, I would take the one we turned down,” referring to a plan submitted by two Minneapolis companies, The Lander Group Inc. and Sherman Associates Inc. “I wouldn’t mind rebidding the whole thing or going to the next guy in line and asking if he’s still interested,” Brooks said.

The city’s proposed schedule calls for the Urban Design Review Board to evaluate Court Avenue Partners’ proposal by Sept. 7 and review any competing proposals by Oct. 19.

Developers would have until Oct. 22 to revise their proposals and submit a final plan to the city. The Urban Design Review Board is to recommend one proposal to the City Council at a special session Oct. 25. At that same meeting, the council would approve both an urban renewal agreement and the use of tax increment financing for the project.

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