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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.
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Go deeper

Updated Sep 15, 2021 - Energy & Environment

California fires force Sequoia National Park personnel to evacuate

A person at the base of the General Sherman Tree in Sequoia National Park in 2006. Photo: Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Two uncontained California wildfires are projected to spread toward Sequoia National Park, forcing around 75 park personnel to evacuate, AP reports.

Why it matters: Park officials said the fires have the potential to threaten a part of the park known as Giant Forest, which is home to more than 2,000 giant sequoias, including one that is considered the largest tree on Earth by volume.

Updated 2 hours ago - Science

Huge wildfire reaches edge of Sequoia National Park

A plume of smoke and flames rise into the air as the fire burns towards Moro Rock during the KNP Complex fire in the Sequoia National Park near Three Rivers, California, on Saturday. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Firefighters in Sequoia National Park were working into the night after two wildfires merged to reach the Giant Forest Saturday.

Why it matters: This forest contains over 2,000 giant sequoias, including the General Sherman Tree — the world's largest tree by volume. Park officials wrapped the redwoods in foil last week as the Paradise and Colony Fires, now known as the KNP Complex Fire, neared. Protection efforts appeared to be working overnight.

3 hours ago - World

Hong Kong holds first "patriots only" elections

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam during a news conference last Monday. Photo: Lui Siu Wai/Xinhua via Getty Images

Hong Kong's elections to choose the city's Election Committee members opened to a select group of voters on Sunday, under a new "patriots only" system imposed by China's government.

Why it matters: All candidates running to be members of the electoral college have been "vetted" by Beijing, per Reuters. They will go on to choose the Asian financial hub's next leader, approved by China's government, and some of its legislature.