The city of Des Moines plans to sell its 843-space parking garage at 750 Mulberry St. to EMC Insurance Cos. for $14.9 million, pending City Council approval on May 20.

Acquiring the parking garage could help move forward EMC’s development plans for 701 Walnut St., where a portion of the former Younkers department store was located, said Carrie Kruse, Des Moines’ economic development coordinator.

EMC is “already pretty constrained on the parking that they have,” Kruse said. “Securing parking for their employees will be a big piece out of the way for them [so they can] start really getting to work on the design” for the former Younkers site.

EMC, with more than 1,400 employees in downtown Des Moines, is among Iowa’s largest property/casualty organizations. It was founded in 1911 and in the past 25 years has expanded its downtown footprint, most recently by acquiring the former Younkers site in a land swap deal in 2018.

In an email, EMC senior vice president and spokeswoman Lisa Hamilton wrote that the company “is continuing to grow and needs additional parking for the future.”

She wrote that EMC officials are continuing to assess “how best to use” the former Younkers site.

The former department store building was ravaged in a 2014 fire. The western half of the two-part structure was saved and developed into apartments and retail space. The eastern half was demolished.

The city of Des Moines and EMC jointly built the Mulberry Street parking garage in 2006. EMC owns the structure’s eastern half; the city owns the west portion.

The sale of the garage, which had generated roughly $983,000 annually in gross revenue for the city, will convert property to a taxable use. It’s not known exactly how much property tax revenue will be raised from the city’s portion of the garage. However, EMC’s portion of the garage is valued at $8.8 million, public records show. Property taxes for 2019-20 are about $391,000, more than a third of which will be paid to the city, records show.

The purchase agreement between EMC and the city calls for the private company to:

Provide 100 hourly parking spaces on the ground floor for public use for 20 years.  
Provide 100 monthly parking spaces in the garage, the duration of which hinges on completion of a parking garage under construction at Walnut Street and Fifth Avenue.
Provide 156 night and weekend parking spaces on EMC’s surface lots for five years.
Continue to rent space to Des Moines in the garage for the traffic enforcement operations. The city will pay $100 per month to rent the space for 10 years.

While Kruse said Des Moines isn’t getting out of the business of providing public parking, “I think we're strategically limiting our exposure.”

She said it’s important for Des Moines to keep a presence in the business so it can help keep parking fee rates reasonable. Other cities that have abandoned ownership of parking garages have seen rates skyrocket, she said.

“We want parking to be affordable, and we want downtown to continue to be a place where people want to do business and where people want to come and go to our restaurants and support our local businesses,” she said. Des Moines owns six parking garage that have a total of 4,687 spaces.

The sale of the garage is expected to be completed by the end of June. Money from the sale will be split between the city’s Metro Center Urban Renewal Area Fund and a sub-fund of the general fund for capital improvements, a city document shows.

EMC’s growing downtown footprint
The following shows EMC Insurance Cos.’ growing presence in downtown Des Moines:
1997 - Opened its 20-story corporate headquarters at 700 Walnut St.
2010 – Bought Kaleidoscope at the Hub, 555 and 655 Walnut St.
2012 – Bought Hub Tower, 699 Walnut St.  
2017 – Completed construction of a four-story office building at 219 Eighth St.
2018 – Acquired the former Younkers building site at 701 Walnut St. in a land swap with Blackbird Investment Group. Blackbird acquired the portion of Kaleidoscope located at 555 Walnut St.