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DES MOINES, Iowa — The corner of 7th and Walnut was once the most popular place in Des Moines, but the site of the former Younkers department store could become a different kind of meeting place.

EMC Insurance, which owns the lot, announced its intentions to develop the site into a neighborhood park. Crews started removing the unused skywalks over the former Younkers on Friday, with the goal of opening the park in the summer of 2022.

“You’ve seen all of the success of folks moving downtown, but they have to go blocks and blocks away just to find a park,” said Des Moines Parks and Recreation director Ben Page. “This will solve that gap. We knew if we didn’t find something soon, it would be too late.”

In a release, EMC said plans for the future park include courts, seats, flower beds, and public artwork.

The former department store building burned down in a massive fire seven years ago, and proposals for the site have rotated since then.

EMC had planned to build an office tower on the site after it acquired the lot in 2018, but the company cited COVID-19 as a reason not to expand its footprint.

Before EMC’s ownership, Blackbird Investments proposed a 33-story skyscraper on the site. The company traded the land to EMC for the former Kaleidoscope at The Hub annex on 6th and Walnut, but its plans to transition its tower proposal to that site have stalled.

People who live and work downtown say they are looking forward to a new piece of green space.

“I’m all for anything that is green, any excuse to bring people together,” said Carlos Vaquerano, who works at the Ruan Center a block away from the Younkers site. “The people here are nice and friendly. Once we have more places to enjoy, I think it will be even better.”

“I would probably go every time I’m off so my dog can play and maybe meet new people,” said downtown Des Moines resident Rylie DeFrancisco.

The plans for the park are not finalized yet. Once they are, EMC will commit to keeping the land as a park for a decade after its completion.