DMSC + firehouse = a perfect match?

Posted by PM on December 29th, 2011 9:47 am

The Des Moines Social Club may soon have a new, permanent home. That is, if the nonprofit can get it.

The city’s central fire station building, located at 900 Mulberry St., will soon be empty, as a new fire station is under construction at 1330 Mulberry St. In a few months, the old brick fire station will sit empty, and DMSC leaders want to take over the building and convert it into a permanent home for the organization’s many concerts, plays, classes, shows and other cultural events.

The nonprofit, which launched in 2007 and is currently operating out of the Kirkwood Hotel, has been in search of a permanent home downtown since being booted from its first location, across from the Pappajohn Sculpture Park. Now, with an ideal building and ideal location about to open up, the DMSC is crafting a proposal and raising money to buy or lease the property.

But nothing is a slam-dunk just yet, as the Des Moines City Council — who has repeatedly, publicly shown support for keeping the organization downtown — has made it clear the city will explore all options for the old firehouse space, including ones that put the property on the tax rolls.

The waiting game

The Social Club wants to purchase the building from the city for $1, which would mean fundraising efforts could be used to rehabilitate the building to include a gallery, theater, classrooms, shop space and a bar and restaurant. If the city agrees to sell the building, the club has a permanent home.

For now, though, it’s a waiting game.

“I want to work with them,” City Councilwoman Christine Hensley said. “But we have to go through the market process. They can’t expect the city to just give it to them.”

Hensley, who also sits on the Des Moines Social Club’s advisory committee, said the city is waiting for a proposal from the nonprofit that specifies the rehab costs. She said starting with a developer’s initial proposal would make it difficult for another party to come in and make a better bid.

Preservation and revitalization

“The Social Club inspires people to do the things they want to do,” Zachary Mannheimer, founder and executive director of the Social Club, said. “That is why Des Moines needs it. We want the club to be a nucleus for the art scene. Then all of these other projects can sprout up, because it’s now possible.”

Using the fire station, instead of leaving it empty or tearing it down, would not only give the Social Club a suitable home for its programming, but would also preserve a historic building that’s served Des Moines since the Great Depression. The organization would raise funds to revitalize the building, which in turn would preserve a historic piece of the city, Mannheimer said.

Getting involved

The Des Moines Social Club promotes a thriving arts and culture scene, Mannheimer said, which brings young people to Des Moines and encourages them to stay, promotes downtown business and generates new ideas to keep Des Moines on its blossoming path.

“The biggest thing (the Social Club) did by having a physical location was serve as the center of the art scene,” said Mike Draper, owner of Raygun and a DMSC supporter. “It was an important thing for downtown events, which used to be held at the Temple, Lift, Mews — it always changed. When the Social Club opened, it was a convenient space with a bar that served as a physical anchor for the art scene.”

Hensley agrees that the Social Club belongs downtown. “There is a synergy that we have downtown,” she said. “There is more activity downtown, and it’s a different cross-section of people that go to the Social Club. It would be a lot more successful in the downtown area than other places — and my downtown boundaries include the East Village.”

For now, Mannheimer and the organization’s leaders are encouraging its members to get involved in another way — voicing support for the new location. An “I Want the DMSC in the Firehouse” Facebook page has popped up, and Mannheimer said a full house at Saturday’s BASH New Year’s Eve event will further show that there’s major support for the move in the community.

There is a need for this move to happen, and support from the community will help it happen, Mannheimer said.

To find out more, go to: