A view of the proposed new skywalk over Seventh Street looking north from Walnut Street. Architectural rendering by BBS Architects

Redevelopment of a once vibrant downtown Des Moines corner is expected to begin early next year with the demolition of two skywalk bridges and the construction of a rerouted walkway over Seventh Street.

Removal of the existing skywalks will make it easier for the vacant property at 701 Walnut St. to be redeveloped, an architect for BBS Architects told a city board this week.

EMC Insurance Cos., which owns the 701 Walnut property, this week gained approval from the Urban Review Design Board for the design of a new skywalk that would connect the northwest corner of the Hub Tower at 655 Walnut St. and the Greater Des Moines Partnership building at 700 Locust St.

Construction of the new skywalk is expected to begin in March with completion slated for September.

A skywalk from EMC’s building at Seventh and Walnut would be demolished, as would the temporary skywalk from the Hub Tower to 700 Locust St.

The area has been an eyesore in downtown since March 2014 when the former Younkers building was destroyed in a fire. All that remains at the site is deep hole.

The existing skywalks at Seventh and Walnut streets. Both would be demolished under a proposal by EMC Insurance Cos.

An office tower is planned at the vacant site at 701 Walnut St. Photo special to the Business Record

EMC acquired the former Younkers site in 2018 when it swapped properties with Blackbird Investments, a Des Moines development company that had owned the 701 Walnut St. property. In return for the vacant site located immediately north of EMC’s corporate headquarters, Blackbird received a portion of Kaleidoscope at the Hub.  

EMC has said it planned on building an office building at 701 Walnut St.; however, to date, specific plans for the site have not been shared publicly.

When asked this week about development plans for the site, EMC’s CEO Bruce Kelly referred questions to Matt Cole, an architect with BBS Architects who presented the skywalk plans to the city board.

“We’re very early on in the programming of the building yet,” Cole told the Business Record. “We’re still defining needs for that property and for EMC’s future. We’re trying to look ahead 20 to 25 years and make sure we program it appropriately and get it right.”

Removing the existing skywalks is the first step in preparing for redevelopment of the site, Cole said. The removal of the walkways will make it easier for construction on the site to occur, he said. In addition, constructing a new bridge over Seventh Street will ensure that the skywalk in that area of downtown will remain open during construction of an office tower, he said.

Cole told the Business Record that it hasn’t yet been determined whether a new office tower would house EMC employees or other office tenants.

“We’re looking at the need for Class A office space in downtown and weigh that with the needs for EMC over the next 20 years,” Cole said. “Whether EMC occupies the building or not is yet to be determined.”

Cole told the Urban Design Review Board that site preparation work at 701 Walnut could begin yet this year. He said existing foundations will be removed and supports installed to shore up the sides of the hole.

“I think that takes a big stride toward getting rid of a scar along the street,” Cole told the board.  
Removing the skywalk over Walnut would likely allow the street to be reopened, Cole said. Currently the skywalk is being held up by supports that are in the street.

EMC will pay for the construction of the new skywalk bridge over Seventh Street and the city will maintain it. The project’s general contractor is Neumann Brothers Inc.

The city’s Plan and Zoning Commission and Skywalk Committee must also approve the proposed new skywalk before construction can begin.

The interior of the proposed new skywalk over Seventh Street that would connect the Hub Tower at 655 Walnut St. and Greater Des Moines Partnership building at 700 Locust St. Architectural rendering by BBS Architects