Illustration by PUSHpixel
Illustration by PUSHpixel

DesMoinesArts Inc. has closed on the purchase of a 164,000-square-foot building at 900 Keosauqua Way and plans to turn the 4 ½-story structure into a work center for artists.

The nonprofit organization was formed by Justin Mandelbaum and his father, John, and is modeled after an organization in which Justin was a partner in Lowell, Mass.

With rents that could range from $175  to $350 a month, Justin Mandelbaum said he hopes the collaborative cultural center becomes "the nation's premier arts incubator."

He presented an overview of the project at Monday's Des Moines City Council meeting. DesMoinesArts has spent the last five years lining up financial and moral support for the project.

An advisory committee for DesMoinesArts includes city officials, developers and philanthropists. Business Publications Corporation Inc. owner Connie Wimer sits on the committee.

The former Quest Communications building will undergo a renovation that includes dividing large open spaces into studios with 8-foot walls under ceilings that are more than 13 feet tall.

A website was launched in 2011 to gauge local demand for art studios. Responses were received from 424 artists, 27 arts organizations and 359 community supporters. Ninety respondents replied that "hell yes" they were "ready to move in yesterday." Another 249 expressed interest in having a workspace to call their own.

The building will have 187 studios that can be configured at the users' request and can have single or double occupancy. In addition to studios, other potential uses could include video production, a kiln room, darkroom, set production, woodworking shop and recording studio. A multipurpose event space with an attached kitchen will be located on the first floor. The top three stories will be devoted to studios, and each floor will include gallery space.

Rents could range from $175 a month for less than 300 square feet to a minimum $350 a month for more than 600 square feet. The building will not have residential units.

DesMoinesArts provides the missing link of permanent, affordable workspaces to complement the Des Moines Social Club, Justin Mandelbaum said.

The project should self-sustaining once the building and renovations are funded, he said. There will be no management or development fees associated with the project.


"It is our way of giving back to the community," Mandelbaum said.

In a letter supporting the project, Des Moines Social Club founder Zachary Mannheimer said he was "excited by all the potential collaborations the two organizations can do to take the local art scene to the next level."

DesMoinesArts also received endorsement letters from Sally Dix, executive director of Bravo Greater Des Moines, Matt Anderson, assistant city manager for the city of Des Moines, Polk County Supervisor Angela Connolly and Greater Des Moines Partnership CEO Jay Byers.

The purchase was funded by the Leadership Circle of the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, which raised $500,000, and bridge financing from two local lenders.


DesMoinesArts paid $2 million for the Quest building and other Quest properties at 1000 Keosauqua Way, 1230 Oakridge Drive and 1201 Center St., according to Polk County property records.

The Quest building was constructed in 1973 as part of the Northwestern Bell Telephone Co. complex . It is near the campuses of Principal Financial Group Inc. and Iowa Methodist Medical Center.

Mandelbaum said the renovations will be done over three years, depending on financing and demand for space.