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Des Moines staff raise concerns about artwork proposed for parking garage


An architect’s rendering shows how tinted, translucent blades would be attached to the west facade of the parking garage under construction at Fifth Avenue and Walnut Street in downtown Des Moines. City staff have raised several concerns about the proposed artwork. Rendering by Substance Architecture.

Des Moines city staff have raised several concerns about a unique piece of moving art that is proposed to cover the west facade of a parking garage under construction at Fifth Avenue and Walnut Street in downtown Des Moines. 

The artwork, called the “Flying Fifth,” involves 435 two-bladed windmills that rotate slowly with the wind. The artwork will also include 870 one-foot square LED panels, located in the center of each windmill and in between each windmill. A computer program will operate the panels that will change colors and project varying images.

City staff, in a report to the Urban Design Review Board that is scheduled to discuss the project on Tuesday, cited concerns about the proposal including: 

  • How operation, maintenance and replacement costs of the “Flying Fifth” will affect the amount of shortfall loan payments Des Moines has been asked to provide for the garage during its first 20 years of operations, and how these costs could impact the repayment timeline for the garage to repay the shortfall loan to the city with future operating revenues beginning in year 21. City officials previously agreed to providing shortfall loan payments on the difference between net operating revenues of the parking garage and payments owed on the permanent loan for constructing the garage with a principal balance not to exceed $48 million.
  • The unknown cost to operate, maintain and replace pieces of the artwork. Also unknown are whether materials in the proposed artwork will be covered by a warranty.
  • Whether the blades will cause any type of noise when they are rotating.
  • Whether the artwork will “screen” vehicles parked in the garage.
  • Whether the proposed artwork will meet building code requirements regarding ventilation and openness.
  • How lighting inside the parking garage at night will affect the proposed artwork.

City staff is suggesting the review board not make a recommendation to the City Council about the artwork until more information is available from developer Justin Mandelbaum, who has partnered with internationally known artist Yorame Mevorach, known artistically as Oyoram, on creation of the “Flying Fifth.”

Mandelbaum is developing “the Fifth,” a $200-million project that includes a 40-story tower with 209 luxury apartments and a 21c Museum Hotel, a dine-in movie theater, retail space and a public parking garage. Construction of the parking garage is underway and is expected to be completed by Aug. 16, 2020.

“Given that the art facade is in the conceptual development phase, we have engaged [city staff] early in the process to get their feedback and address any concerns,” Mandelbaum told the Business Record. “The concept that Oyoram and Tim [Hickman of Substance Architecture] have developed to date has blown away my expectations. I’m confident they will deliver a design that [city staff] will embrace and the public will view as an iconic addition to the growing arts scene in Des Moines.”

According to the city staff memo to the Urban Review Design Board, Mandelbaum plans to ask the City Council to extend the deadline to complete the west facade to the end of December 2020.

The council is expected to discuss the extension and other items in its development agreement with Mandelbaum at its Oct. 14 meeting.

To read the full Insider’s version of “The ‘unique’ moving, colorful art planned for new parking garage,” click here.

NOTE: This story originally included inaccurate information about the shortfall loan. The story was updated at 3 p.m. Sept. 30 with accurate information.

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