Five Years Later, Iowans Remember the Younkers Fire

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DES MOINES, Iowa — It is hard to believe, but it has been five years since the Younkers Building in downtown Des Moines burned to the ground.

“I heard about it on the news and I cried a little because of the memories and it being such a beautiful building,” said Debbie Wayman.

Wayman says she was moved to tears while watching the scene unfold because it connected her to her youth.

“As a kid my mom used to take us down here to Younkers to go shopping, to go to the tea room, have lunch. I remember going to the mezzanine, I remember the woman who sat on the elevator and she actually would take you to the floor and announce the floor you were dropping off at,” she said.

Tom Keef worked downtown. He says the morning after the fire is what stuck out.

“When I came in the next day, that’s when you kind of noticed everything was really chaotic because we were out in the skywalk and a bunch of stuff was closed down. You could see some of the debris and the firefighters and all that, so that’s what I remember,” said Keef.

Since the fire, buildings around the Younkers site have been renovated into offices, apartments, a food court, and a restored tea room; all major additions to downtown, but people like Wayman say it is still not complete.

“It was really sad to see the building in ruins and it’s sad to see it now that it’s still not…it’s just kind of an empty space there,” she said.

The Younkers property changed hands over the years, but it is now owned by EMC Insurance. The Greater Des Moines Partnership says they are being patient in deciding what to do with it.

“I know that they’ve been studying and seeing what their needs are going out in the future and projecting how workforces and those things change. EMC is a really high-quality property owner, they’re just going to make sure that they know what they want to build and it’s going to be right,” said Tim Leach, senior vice president of downtown development for the Greater Des Moines Partnership.

He said it is important for them to take the time to get it right.

“Downtown is central to the economic development place for the entire region and this is the corporate side of downtown. It’s really important for us to bounce back from that,” said Leach.

Channel 13 reached out to EMC Insurance to see if they had any future plans for the space, and they did not respond.


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