Walnut Street Revitalization Efforts to Begin by 2016

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DES MOINES, Iowa — One year ago Sunday, a massive five alarm fire turned the historic Younkers building which stood at 7th and Walnut for more than 100 years into a charred shell.

Its flames were so hot that the windows and siding of neighboring buildings literally melted.

This fire didn’t only damage structures, but put a halt to dreams and an abrupt end to nearly a decade of planning for a more vibrant downtown Des Moines.

“It was one of those watch it go and wonder what’s going to happen type of things,” said Tim Leach, Senior VP of the Greater Des Moines Partnership.

Leach envisioned shopping, restaurants, and apartment living along Walnut Street to be well on its way by now.

“That plan was moving towards conclusion,” Leach told Channel 13 News.

Local artist James Ellwanger saw Walnut Street as an opportunity to mix art with business.

“This was a fresh way of a way finder that had an artistic way finder that had an artistic tone once it was all lit up,” said Ellwanger.

Ellwanger’s project called “Walnut Glow” would have differentiated the variety of businesses on Walnut Street using LED lights.

Yellow was for places to eat and drink and blue marked places to shop.

“It was a play on how Walnut Street was one of the first streets lit by Edison,” Ellwanger told Channel 13 News.

Construction continues at the site of the old Younkers building.

The west side of the building is currently under construction, with 60 new apartment units expected to be ready by the end of the year.

There are no set plans for the east side of the building yet, but city leaders expect it to be sold to a new developer who will turn it into retail space.

The Walnut Streetscape project which includes new lighting, benches, and sidewalks is currently on hold but Leach expects things to pick back up shortly.

“The Walnut Streetscape is back on. It’s on everyone’s desk. You’ll see some street improvements by 2016,” said Leach.

“People want this to happen. They want to see this happen down here,” Ellwanger told Channel 13 News.

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