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Members of Des Moines board raise questions about accessibility to proposed urban park from new skywalk corridor


An urban park is proposed at 701 Walnut St. where the Younkers department store once was located. A stair tower would provide access to the park from the skywalk. Architectural rendering by BBS Architects|Engineers
Members of Des Moines’ Urban Design Review Board this week raised questions about how people with mobility limitations would be able to access an urban park proposed at 701 Walnut St. from the downtown skywalk system.

EMC Insurance Cos. has proposed transforming a 0.04-acre site that once was home to Younkers department store into a park that would include pickleball courts, bags, swings and other recreational activities. A permanent skywalk corridor is planned over Seventh Street, connecting the Des Moines Partnership building and Hub Tower.

A stair tower would provide skywalk users with direct access to the park.

“If someone has mobility limitations, how are they going to be able to access the park?” board member Steve Wilke-Shapiro asked.

City staff said elevators are located in Hub Tower, to the east of the proposed park; EMC’s office building, south of the park; and in the Partnership Building, which is north of the site. People unable to use the stairs to get to the park will be able to use those elevators to get to the street level and then go to the park, board members were told.

The three elevators are located in designated skywalk access points, city staff said. The privately owned stair tower will not be a designated skywalk access point, they said.

Board members also asked whether signs would be put in the skywalk showing where elevators were located that provided access to the park. They also wondered whether the park would have signage showing where elevators to the skywalk were located.

City staff said the city’s skywalk committee would address the signage questions. They also said the city’s access advisory board would also review the proposed plans.

EMC acquired the property at 701 Walnut St. in 2018, four years after the building that housed the former Younkers store was destroyed in a fire. The remains of the building were demolished, leaving a huge hole. The site has sat vacant since the fire.

The proposed new skywalk corridors will replace a temporary scaffolding bridge that was installed after the fire.

EMC had originally planned on developing a $24 million corporate headquarters expansion on the property at 701 Walnut St. This summer it said it was shelving those plans, at least temporarily.

During this week’s review board meeting, Cindy McCauley, EMC’s vice president of administrative services, said the company is working on a lease agreement with the city that would be in place for at least 10 years and include an optional 10-year extension.

The city’s parks and recreation department would maintain the park and EMC would be responsible for maintenance of the staircase and corridor.

Development of the park and skywalk corridor and stair tower is expected to be completed by August.

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