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D.M. will gauge developer interest in Argonne Armory building


The Argonne Armory Building was the last of seven buildings that made up the Des Moines Civic Center historic district and it could be the first sold for private development.

At least one developer is interested, providing the cost of major repairs and renovations are not too steep and an appropriate use can be found for the 83-year-old Art Deco-style building that has housed a range of city of Des Moines departments for at least three decades.

Repairs figure prominently in efforts of city officials to determine whether there is enough interest among developers to put the building on the market, Deputy City Administrator Carl Metzger said during a recent City Council budget workshop.

Sold or repaired, city staff has recommended vacating the building as part of the shuffle of city workers that was triggered by the shuttering of City Hall last year for the $8.3 million replacement of aging mechanical systems and other renovations.

Factoring in the cost of renting temporary office space for workers at the Argonne Armory Building along with replacing a boiler, windows, roof and HVAC systems, the price tag to the city could be $10 million to $11 million, Metzger said. The first repairs could come in a year’s time, and the remainder could be spread over five years. The city would prefer they were made on someone else’s dime.

Assistant City Manager Matt Anderson said an informal process would be used to test interest among developers.

Developer Jake Christensen has expressed interest in the past, and said he wants to review the information distributed by the city.

“It’s going to take a pretty unique use, especially if you’re going to handle the historic aspects of it,” he said.

The building was among six that contributed to the designation in 1988 of the Civic Center Historic District, an area that runs on the east and west banks of the Des Moines River and includes the U.S. Courthouse, the main post office, City Hall, the Municipal Courts Building (the police station), the original library and the former Des Moines Coliseum, which was destroyed by fire and eventually became the site of the Riverfront YMCA. The property is vacant again and is owned by Hubbell Realty Co.

Original blueprints identified the building as the Armory and World War Memorial Building.

The Argonne Armory Building now serves as home to the city’s community development, human resources, civil and human rights, legal, and information technology departments.

All but the IT and human resources departments will move into leased space at 400 E. Court Ave., where other city departments have operated while waiting out the completion of City Hall repairs. Those departments are expected to move back to City Hall in the spring, and staff at Argonne Armory could follow them into the Court Avenue office space, Metzger said.

The IT department presents the biggest challenge because of underground infrastructure that feeds municipal computer systems running into Argonne Armory. It would be best not to move the department from one rented space to another while repairs are made, Metzger said. The city’s Human Resources Department would move to the Richard A. Clark Municipal Services Building.

The city plans to hire a consultant to suggest options on moving the IT department. Options include occupying space in an office and retail building that is planned for the north side of the city’s new parking garage on East Second Street. The west side of the ramp has been specified for possible construction of another municipal building, but that site is not being considered among the options for finding a home for the IT department, Metzger said.

Meanwhile, the city’s lease at 400 E. Court runs through Nov. 30, 2018, with an option to extend the lease and additional year.

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