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Developers of new Valley Junction building want structure to blend into historic area

‘We hope the project is respectful of Valley Junction’s unique history,’ says one of the project’s developers


Developers of a $3.3 million mixed-use project along Fifth Street in West Des Moines’ Historic Valley Junction are sensitive to ensuring that the new structure respects the area’s architecture but that it also has its own personality.

Construction began in June on a three-story brick structure at 329 Fifth St. that will include commercial space on the first floor and apartments on the second and third floors. 

“We hope the project is respectful of Valley Junction’s unique history, while also aligning with the city’s goals for the neighborhood’s future,” Scott Cutler, one of the development team’s members, wrote in an email.

When completed, the project by Junction House 329 LLC will be the second three-story structure along Fifth Street between Railroad Avenue and Locust Street, a review of Polk County assessor data shows. The other is the former Lyric Theater at 145 Fifth St., which now houses the Theatrical Shop.

The project is also one of five new structures built in Valley Junction since 2013, city records show. Many of the area’s commercial buildings were constructed between 1890 and 1910 and in the 1950s. 

“Contextually, how do you respond to a new project in a historic district?” said Cody Knop, an architect with Substance Architecture, the project’s designer. “It’s a tough task.”

The building’s west-facing exterior includes brick and large windows that are of similar height to those in other buildings along the street. Other features in the area’s historic buildings have been duplicated, Knop said.
“We’re not trying to pretend that it’s a historic building, but we want it to fit into the historic district,” he said. 

The development group, whose members include Cutler, Tim Rypma, Jeremy Cortright and Paul Cownie, purchased the property in January for $290,000, real estate records show. The structure that had been on the site was torn down in the spring.

Rypma said the Valley Junction area, which in 1993 was inundated with flood waters, is ripe for redevelopment.

“It reminds me of [Des Moines’] East Village around 2005,” said Rypma, who has been involved with the historic renovation of properties in the Des Moines area since 2005. “There’s some great traction [in Valley Junction]. 

Housing is definitely a demand. … Other projects with housing are doing well here, so that gave us confidence to move forward” with Junction House.

Apartments in Junction House will include a mix of studio and one-bedroom units priced to accommodate the budgets of moderate-income workers, Rypma said.

The apartments – eight on each of the two floors – will overlook a 1,000-square-foot courtyard.

“Residents will have large sliding [glass] doors with Juliet balconies,” Knop said. The residents “will have great views of the 100 and 200 blocks of Fifth Street.”

The first floor will include 4,000 square feet of retail space.

“Valley Junction is becoming the hotbed of growth and development in our region, and this new, exciting project is just one of the many indications of that,” Katherine Harrington, president and CEO of the West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce, wrote in an email. “We are positioning West Des Moines as the best suburban city in America to live, work and play, and this unique housing and retail development gets us one step further to reaching this goal.”

Construction of the stairwell and elevator shaft are complete and Rypma expects the structure to be enclosed before the end of the year. Construction is expected to be completed by March and leasing of the apartments to begin in the spring, he said. 

Junction House is next door to a new St. Kilda Cafe & Bakery that opened in the former site of a Ford dealership and auto repair shop built around 1914. 
“You used to think the heart of Valley Junction was in the 100 and 200 blocks of Fifth Street,” Knop said. “But with [Junction House] and St. Kilda’s opening, it’s starting to expand what you typically would have thought as the historic part of the street.” 

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