Business Record / Mainframe Studios makeover expected to begin in May and include light display, exterior painting

Business Record / Mainframe Studios makeover expected to begin in May and include light display, exterior painting Kathy A. Bolton, Senior Staff Writer, Business Record | 02/04/2021

Nearly 11 months ago, Mainframe Studios unveiled plans to transform the drab-looking concrete building in which it is housed into an eye-catching display of colors that would catch the eye of passers-by headed into downtown Des Moines.

The plan originally was to have the exterior repainted last fall. But, as happens with many projects, complications arose.

"We wanted to make the building as maintenance-free as possible," said Siobhan Spain, Mainframe Studios’ director.

"We talked with a lot of different paint companies and found out that the caulking we had done around the building … well, the paint won’t stick to it so the caulking has to be treated." The discovery meant delaying the work until spring when warmer weather will allow the caulking to be treated and the rainbow of colored paint applied to the building’s exterior. A May 1 start date is now being eyed for the work, Spain said.

Molly Spain, Siobhan’s sister and an artist who has a studio at Mainframe, has been talking with contractors and paint suppliers on the type of paint to use on the building’s exterior. "She has a long experience with painting, so she was a great pick to work with contractors because she knew what question to ask," Siobhan Spain said.

Molly Spain has also been working with local artist Jordan Weber on a light installation that will be placed on top of the fivestory concrete building that opened in 1983 and originally housed Northwestern Bell Co.’s data center. Weber, who Siobhan Spain describes as "Iowa’s most recognized contemporary artist," has had his work exhibited in New York City, Omaha, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Chicago and Des Moines. He’s received several awards and fellowships, including the New York City-based A Blade of Grass Fellowship.

The light installation at Mainframe Studios is being designed around the words "inhale" and "exhale," Siobhan Spain said. "It’s all about healing and that the breath is healing. … It’s a reminder of maintaining that breath." The artwork, which will be installed in the spring, will point north to the Oakridge Neighborhood and to Interstate Highway 235, she said.

While work on the exterior of the building was delayed, progress has been made on interior renovations. Three floors of the building’s five floors were previously renovated. This past year, a fourth floor was completed, Siobhan Spain said. In March, 58 new studios will open with 50 of them already pre-leased. Spain said she expects the remaining eight studios to be leased in the next month. Once that floor is completely leased, the studio will start breaking even financially, Spain said. When the entire project is finished, the additional revenue will fund an endowment, she said.

Spain said it will cost about $1.5 million to renovate the final floor as well as complete the exterior painting. The figure also includes costs related to replacing elevators and the roof. "That extra income will help us take care of those large expenses that will need to be done sooner than later," she said. The renovation of the final floor is expected to be completed in early 2022.

Mainframe Studios this past year has received large donations from philanthropists Nix and Virginia Lauridsen, as well as Fred and Charlotte Hubbell and Fred and Emily Weitz. "They all have fulfilled their pledges," Spain said. "The outbreak of COVID changed a lot of things. These people all said, ‘Go ahead with your plans. Our support is still committed.’ I think it sends a positive message to the community."

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