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Wednesday's Axios Des Moines stories

Jul 21, 2021 - Axios Des Moines

EMC wants taxes waived for Des Moines park development

The downtown site where EMC plans to build a park remains undeveloped and blocked from public access. Photo: Jason Clayworth/Axios

EMC Insurance is asking Des Moines to waive property taxes on the downtown site where the company wants to build a park instead of expanding its headquarters, city officials confirmed to Axios.

Why it matters: It's a potential loss in tax base on a spot considered to be a prime location for downtown redevelopment.

  • Yes, but: Parks are community assets that help improve people's health, reduce crime and strengthen local economies, according to the City Parks Alliance.

Driving the news: EMC announced on Friday that it's putting its $24 million expansion on an indefinite hold, and that the company instead wants to turn the property into a neighborhood park.

  • The decision was made after the company determined no near-term needs for additional office space, partly due to work-from-home flexibilities following the pandemic.

Flashback: The property, 701 Walnut St., is the site of the former Younkers department store that was destroyed by a fire in 2014.

  • The western half was saved and converted into the Wilkins Building apartments. (The iconic tea room is now an events venue.)
  • Multiple plans to redevelop the Younkers site fizzled before its downtown neighbor EMC purchased the property in 2018 for a headquarters expansion.

Details: The site, which is less than 0.4 acres, is assessed for $1.2 million by the Polk County Assessor.

  • EMC purchased it for $1.9 million, and taxes are currently $45,500 a year.
  • The insurer is now asking for those taxes to be waived in exchange for EMC paying for the park's development, DSM Parks director Ben Page confirmed this week.

Of note: The cost and full scope of plans for the park are unknown at this time, but EMC envisions sports courts, seating, raised flower beds and public art.

  • The land would be used as a park for at least 10 years through an agreement with DSM, EMC said.
  • Ongoing maintenance would mostly be the city's responsibility.

What they're saying: Mayor Frank Cownie commended EMC for the plan in a statement Friday, saying the park "will fill a much-needed void in the community."

  • EMC didn't directly answer if it would proceed without a tax break. "Based on initial discussions with the city, we anticipate that the waiver will be approved," spokesperson Sarah Buckley told us.

What's next: City staff will negotiate the terms of the park agreement and present them to the City Council for approval this fall.

  • EMC projected a late summer 2022 opening if approved.
Jul 21, 2021 - Axios Des Moines

Des Moines approves pay bumps for 3 city officials

(L to R) Scott Sanders, Kay Cmelik and Jeff Lester. Photos courtesy of the city of Des Moines

Des Moines City Council approved raises and performance bonuses for three top officials this week.

  • Since we're talking taxpayer money, here's the breakdown:

Scott Sanders, city manager

  • 4% raise (+$10,934), now $284,268 a year
  • $5K bonus
  • A week of extra vacation (He now has three weeks total)

Jeff Lester, city attorney

  • 3.5% raise (+$7,532), now $222,720 a year
  • $3K bonus

Kay Cmelik, city clerk

  • 3.5% raise (+$4,116), now $121,713 a year
  • $3K bonus
Linh Ta, author of Des Moines
Jul 20, 2021 - Axios Des Moines

Des Moines explores new towing rules to protect drivers

A tow warning sign outside a business off Ingersoll Ave. Photo: Linh Ta/Axios

The Des Moines City Council is considering new rules that benefit drivers who are towed, but some are concerned they may burden businesses.

Driving the news: Council member Josh Mandelbaum last week suggested two new ordinances that he said offer protections for drivers who are privately towed.

  • One requires clear no parking signage by businesses where someone could possibly be towed.
  • The other allows a driver to get their car back if they see their vehicle getting towed before it's brought to the lot. They'll likely have to pay a smaller fee, but the details haven't been determined yet.
Jul 20, 2021 - Axios Des Moines

Des Moines' vehicle fleet charges toward electric future

An electric trash truck during a 2019 demonstration in Germany. Photo: Frank Rumpenhorst/picture alliance via Getty Images

Des Moines is embracing electric cars as its first choice to replace old vehicles as they're retired from the city's fleet, according to its finance director.

  • That includes plans to electrify trash trucks as technology and market availability make their purchase more feasible.

Why it matters: Des Moines has about three dozen trash trucks that accounted for almost half of the city's total diesel use (437K gallons) last year.

  • Their eventual replacements to electric or 100% biodiesel would cut CO2 emissions by an estimated 2,200 tons a year.