Des Moines Register | Four-story, Downtown Art Incubator Proposed

Posted on Nov 18, 2014 in MAINFRAME News

Des Moines Register storyBY JOEL ASCHBRENNER, Des Moines Register

Justin Mandelbaum thinks he has the plan to provide the missing link in downtown Des Moines’ art scene.

The local developer wants to renovate an empty four-story office building at 900 Keosauqua Way into an “art incubator,” with 187 art studios and with space for rehearsals, banquets and an art organization’s offices. It would be operated by Mandelbaum’s nonprofit DesMoinesArts.

“Our vision here is to create one of the nation’s premiere art incubators as one of the largest artist studio buildings in the country,” Mandelbaum told the Des Moines City Council on Monday.

Mandelbaum, 34, said DesMoinesArts will bookend the local art scene opposite the Des Moines Social Club. The Social Club, which recently moved into its new headquarters in the former downtown fire station, provides space for performances, galleries and art classes, while DesMoinesArts would provide work space.

Can the two co-exist?

Zachary Mannheimer, executive director of the Social Club, thinks so.

“DesMoinesArts’ focus on providing affordable workspace is a natural complement to the Social Club’s focus on performance, programs, education and events,” Mannheimer wrote in a letter of support for the project. “I … am excited by all the potential collaborations the two organizations can do to take the local art scene to the next level.”

Mandelbaum agreed. “Their focus is on events, performance, exhibits and education,” he said. “Our focus is on affordable workspace. They really go hand-in-hand.”

Project depends on fundraising

DesMoinesArts purchased the building and three other properties owned by CenturyLink near Keo Way for $2 million, according to records filed Tuesday with the Polk County Recorder. Mandelbaum said the renovation will cost several million dollars, but he couldn’t yet announce a specific estimate.

The construction schedule will depend on fundraising and demand for work space. He hopes to begin leasing the first-floor studios in late 2015 and finish renovating the remaining three floors in the next three years.

Mandelbaum has been trying to find a building for DesMoinesArts for about five years. In 2013, he proposed renovating an industrial building south of Gray’s Lake, where Confluence Brewing Company is located, into more than 150 artist studios. But Mandelbaum’s contract to buy the building expired before he could raise enough money.

Fundraising is further along this time around. The Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines has donated $500,000. Mandelbaum said he is seeking corporate donations and grants for the project.

City leaders said they were excited to see the ambitious vision gaining traction with a land purchase.

“It’s no longer a pie in the sky. That’s fantastic,” Council member Chris Coleman said.