The Riverfront YMCA, situated along the Des Moines River on what many people consider the crown jewel of downtown development sites, is for sale.
Linda Gibbs and Tim Sharpe, both of CBRE/Hubbell Commercial have the 1.86-acre property at 101 Locust St. listed for $5.5 million.
"I was going there as a kid," said Kyle Gamble, managing director of CBRE/Hubbell Commercial. "I want to see something develop there that creates a positive impression on the community."
Gamble said he believes the YMCA, which was built in 1957, will be demolished and replaced by a high-rise commercial and residential property.
"We're looking at something that will make a statement," he said.
The property has been listed for less than a week, and developers from near and far have expressed interest, Sharpe said.
The strength of the Greater Des Moines economy and the steady filling of apartment units have made the area a draw for investors.
A flier announcing the availability of the YMCA property was distributed to 8,000 investors and developers worldwide. In addition to local interest, Sharpe and Gibbs have heard from developers in Canada and Israel.

"We're seeing a lot of interest from outside the market because of our good fundamentals," Sharpe said.


Developers of multifamily properties are especially keen on Greater Des Moines. The central business district has few vacancies, and even cities that have long shunned multifamily housing are approving new developments.


"This market is attracting a lot of attention. ... My biggest frustration is finding enough product," Sharpe said.


Sharpe said the YMCA has about $1 million available to help defray the costs of demolition.


Commercial development of the property, the last remaining riverfront site downtown, has been high on the wish list of city leaders.


"That's pretty much the prime redevelopment site along the river," said Matt Anderson, who leads economic development efforts for the city of Des Moines.


Though a formal development plan has yet to be presented, both brokers and city officials envision a high-rise structure with retail and restaurants on the ground floors and upscale apartments above.


"It's going to an expensive piece of land, so you're going to have to have some density to cover those costs," Anderson said. "People will pay more as you go up."


The YMCA's availability adds another ball in the air of a deft juggling act that triggered a heady phase of downtown development.


The 56-year-old building is for sale because the YMCA of Greater Des Moines hopes to begin construction later this year on its new home at the former Polk County Convention Complex.
Now follow the bouncing ball. The YMCA picked up the convention center from Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which picked it up from Polk County, which picked up the former J.C. Penney's building from Wellmark. None of this came without a price, of course.
Polk County needed the extra space afforded by old Penney's building, a property for which Wellmark had little practical use.
At roughly the same time, a group of businesses and community leaders formed Des Moines Redevelopment Co., which has created a revolving loan fund that can be used for downtown projects, with the prized project being a convention center hotel.
The YMCA has raised more than 90 percent of the $30 million needed for the move to its new site, which will be called the Wellmark YMCA and will include an Olympic-size swimming pool to be built in an alley that Wellmark has donated to the organization.
The Riverfront YMCA is situated on land once occupied by the Des Moines Coliseum, a featured draw for celebrities and U.S. presidents from 1909 until it burned to the ground in 1949.