Community leaders today announced they are exploring the feasibility of converting much of the financially troubled Des Moines Social Club into a public market. 


Malo, a popular restaurant, will remain. A new feature — Scenic Route Bakery — opened at the site at 2:30 p.m. today. 


The 10-year-old Social Club, located in the art deco former fire station No. 1 at 900 Mulberry St. downtown since 2014, announced in June it was having financial trouble and would look for a new operations model. Records showed losses in six figures in at least two recent years. Backers of the new plan couldn’t give an updated report on the Social Club’s finances today.


Tiffany Tauscheck, the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s chief strategy officer, said the Des Moines Social Club will remain as a nonprofit entity, but a new board will be appointed and eventually the name may change. Any debt of the Social Club’s will be addressed with the new model, she added.


The idea is to have a series of owner-operated shops or vendor areas in leased space at the sprawling complex, perhaps with major donors offering space to nonprofits. There remains a vision of entertainment, food, culinary classes and a little bit of something for everyone — a broad mission that some thought led to Social  Club’s financial issues. But a new lease plan should help solve those issues, backers said. 


“We are looking at an evolving model that is sustainable, cost-effective and a longer-term plan,” Tauscheck said. Early research suggested remodeling an existing building would mean the market would cost 30% of the cost of new construction. 


The due diligence work will take about four months and will include looking possible layouts and a business plan with the help of a consultant. Programming will be up to the current Social Club for a while, but 2020 bookings will be canceled with refunds, Tauscheck said. They can be rebooked under the new board and management, she said. 


“When it became clear that this site might be available as a possibility for a year-round market, we started looking for ways to reinvent the Social Club,” said Kristi Knous, president of the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines. Knous also is a leader of the Capital Crossroads visioning process, which is working on the year-round market concept. She said momentum built rapidly for the move over the past three weeks.


The Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, Polk County and the city of Des Moines are paying for the due diligence work. The thought is that the market could be similar to one in the New Bohemia district in Cedar Rapids and to sites  in Seattle, Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Portland, Ore., and Milwaukee. 


Developer Jake Christensen has been involved in a work group that also includes representatives of the Community Foundation, Drake University, BBS engineering firm, the city and the Greater Des Moines Partnership. “This would build on the vision of  [the former] Firehouse No. 1, support local entrepreneurs, cultivate creativity and connect more people to fresh and organic foods and local goods,” Christensen said. 


Leaders have long wanted an all-year market in Des Moines. A previous proposal to use the Kaleidoscope mall had to be abandoned when a commercial tower was proposed for the site. 


Statement from the Social Club board:

For more than 10 years, the Des Moines Social Club has served this community’s growing, artistic 

community. Our vision was to bring people together through the arts and provide access to vibrant 

cultural offerings. As new arts and cultural organizations have emerged and expanded, it is also 

time for our organization to imagine what’s next.  


As we celebrated our 10th anniversary, we sought the advice and counsel of community leaders,

staff, and supporters, past and present, to explore opportunities to continue the work and activity

at Firehouse No. 1. 


In our commitment to serve this organization and the community, we understand that we must be 

open to new ideas, energy, and leadership.  It is now time for the organization to evolve and 

transform. While the programming may not look like it has in the past, we welcome the 

possibilities that come with the evolution of this glorious facility in the continuing mission to create

unprecedented community engagement. 


Something new and wonderful is coming, and we are thrilled to have been a part of its emergence. 


To all of you who have supported our activities these many years, we thank you.


Board of Directors

Des Moines Social Club

Photo courtesy of BBS Architects | Engineers