May 2, 2024 - News

Des Moines' armory could become a performing arts center

A photo of the Armory building.

Pending Des Moines City Council approval Monday, the city would also start a process to name the armory a local landmark. That designation would mean future exterior modifications to the 1934 building would require approval from the Historic Preservation Commission. Photo: Courtesy of Slingshot Architecture via Des Moines Performing Arts

The Argonne Armory building could become the headquarters for DSM Performing Arts' education and community youth programs under a $15 million idea before the City Council on Monday.

Why it matters: Municipal offices will soon vacate the site, leaving the future of the historic building uncertain.

  • The performing arts project would contribute to East Village's vibrancy, deputy city manager Matt Anderson tells Axios.

Catch up quick: Des Moines is consolidating most city offices to the former Nationwide building at 1200 Locust St.

  • Offices in the armory and City Hall will close by 2026.

Driving the news: DSM developer Jake Christensen recently approached the city with the armory redevelopment idea on the arts organization's behalf.

  • Next week, City Council will vote on whether to direct municipal staff to work with Christensen on preliminary terms for a development agreement.

The big picture: Des Moines Performing Arts' (DMPA) outreach programs, including classes, camps and free or low-cost performances for children, reach more than 70,000 people each year, CEO Jeff Chelesvig tells Axios.

Yes, but: A lack of space at the downtown Civic Center and the Temple of Performing Arts is impeding its growth.

  • Seven weeks of summer camps, for example, were booked within 90 minutes this year, Chelesvig said.

By the numbers: Moving operations to the armory would allow for an additional 20,000 annual participants, according to information provided to the Council Thursday.

Reality check: DMPA's idea is in early stages and would require further review and major fundraising, Chelesvig said.

  • Even if a preliminary development agreement with DMPA comes together, other developers will have a chance to submit competing proposals for other uses, Anderson noted.

Flashback: Christensen was also involved in a 2018 effort to convert the armory into a music venue after the city announced the site needed up to $11 million of repairs.

  • Those plans fell through after the city reassessed its use and timelines for the building.

What's next: DSM will also seek redevelopment requests for City Hall, which is also losing municipal offices, under a separate proposal Monday. That process will remain open through December.

  • Meanwhile, the armory project does not yet have a specific timeline but council updates would be likely in coming months, Anderson said.
A photo inside the Armory building
Some of the space inside the Armory could be used for youth activities under DMPA's ideas for the facility. Rendering: Courtesy of Slingshot Architecture via Des Moines Performing Arts
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