All that's left of a three-way trade of downtown properties is the signing and transfer of deeds, but you might think of them as contracts in a deal that Glenn Lyons likens to a complex trade of baseball players.

 

"We need pitching and he needs a first baseman," said Lyons, president and CEO of the Downtown Community Alliance.

 

Throw in a power-hitting right fielder you have the rough equivalent of a deal approved Tuesday that will see Polk County solve part of the problem it faces in updating court facilities, the genuine lack of need Wellmark Inc. had for a former department store, and the YMCA of Greater Des Moines' pressing, and expensive, need to find a place to grow.

 

The Polk County Board of Supervisors gave final approval to transferring its abandoned Polk County Convention Complex at 501 Grand Ave. to Wellmark. The county will pay an additional $500,000 and Wellmark will sign over the deed to the former J.C. Penney's building at 222 Fifth Ave. Wellmark will sell the convention center to the YMCA for $4.5 million and include an abandoned lot adjacent to the center, where an Olympic-size swimming pool will be constructed.

 

The fourth piece of the deal is the fate of the Riverfront YMCA at 101 Locust St., the current home of the Greater Des Moines operation. It is a building constructed in the 1950s that was going to require many millions of dollars in renovations. Rick Tollakson, a member of the YMCA board, was one of many people who realized that money could be better spent elsewhere.

 

In addition, the property overlooks the Des Moines River. It already has been the target of one failed redevelopment effort. But it is prime property that folks in City Hall believe could be a pre-eminent retail and residential development. Polk County supervisors have decided to spend $1 million toward the anticipated $1.25 million needed to raze the structure after the YMCA moves to new digs, probably in early 2015.

 

Lyons says that Tollakson was the driving force behind the land swap. He had a partner, of course, who noted that the movement of so many pieces of a development puzzle required a bona fide deal maker. That person is businessman Bill Knapp.

 

"To get Bill Knapp's interest, there has to be a deal involved," Tollakson said.

 

The deal grew by leaps. The YMCA is in the throes of raising more than $20 million to pay for renovations to the Convention Complex. Knapp raised $9 million of that in short order.

 

And there was more. Knapp and businessman Jim Cownie are largely credited with mustering several million dollars in guarantees from 18 businesses and individuals that could be used to leverage a line of credit and obtain other troublesome properties that could be held for future development. That effort resulted in formation of the nonprofit Des Moines Redevelopment Co., which has bought properties that could be used for the construction of a convention center hotel near the Iowa Events Center. The group has obtained a $9 million line of credit from Bankers Trust Co.