Amid financial turmoil, Des Moines Social Club being reinvented as indoor public market

 

Amid financial turmoil, Des Moines Social Club being reinvented as indoor public market

Kim Norvell and Linh Ta, Des Moines Register

A group of Des Moines business and civic leaders announced plans Wednesday to take control of the Des Moines Social Club and redevelop the downtown venue into a year-round public market.

Plans are in the early stages for a reimagined space, which could cost about $7 million. So are plans for what would happen to the Des Moines Social Club as it exists today — a nonprofit organization and entertainment venue dedicated to local arts, theater and music.

Leaders envision owner-operated shops or vendor areas that would include fresh produce and other homemade goods similar to those found at the Downtown Farmers' Market.

Additional space could be dedicated to restaurants.

"It's a really important space in this community. We want to transform it, not let it go," said Kristi Knous, president of the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, the nonprofit that is spearheading the project along with the Greater Des Moines Partnership, the city of Des Moines, Polk County and other community stakeholders.

A local group plans to transform the Des Moines Social Club into a year-round public market. (Photo: BBS Architects | Engineers/Special to the Register)

"We are thinking creatively about how we could carry on the essence of the Social Club," she said.

The Latin restaurant Malo will remain open. So will Scenic Route Bakery, an East Village cafe that will open its second location at the Des Moines Social Club on Thursday.

Both will serve as "anchors" to the proposed indoor market, Knous said.

Organizers hope to continue operating the Social Club's gallery space, holding community classes and renting out the events space, Knous said. It's unclear what may happen to the Kum & Go Theater.

The announcement comes just three months after the Social Club said it was facing financial struggles, with operating costs largely outpacing income.

Leaders behind the proposed public market say the Social Club is not closing, but rather evolving.

However, the Social Club's website, which previously listed events and classes, has been replaced by a statement from its board of directors that says, "Something new and wonderful is coming."

"It is not closing. It is emerging. This is going to be an evolution of the Social Club into this public market concept," Knous said.

A long exposure of the Des Moines Social Club at dusk Tuesday, April 22, 2014. (Photo: Zach Boyden-Holmes/Juice)

"The spirit of the Social Club was always to bring people and build a community, and be available for all. That will very much be there in this public market space," she said.

The Social Club's nine-member board of directors is expected to vote this week to dissolve. A new board of directors will take over the direction of the club, said Tiffany Tauscheck, chief strategy officer for the Greater Des Moines Partnership.

The existing board of directors is tasked with appointing members to the new board.

The group has hired a consultant to do a 120-day concept study to further refine the plans. The consultant will help determine how the market would be financed, likely through a combination of public and private money, as well as grant funding.

The concept of an indoor market has been floating around Des Moines for several years. Initial plans called for the market to be in the Kaleidoscope at the Hub before the building was purchased by Blackbird Investments, a local developer that plans to demolish it and build a high-rise apartment tower in its place.

Public markets have been successful in other cities across the United States, including Seattle, Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Portland and Milwaukee. The NewBo City Market in Cedar Rapids boasts dozens of small business start-ups that host many weekly pop-up shops and farmers markets.

Vendors set up booths at the NewBo City Market in Cedar Rapids. (Photo: Richard Lane/Special to the Register)

Founded in 2008 by Zack Mannheimer, the Des Moines Social Club first operated out of 1408 Grand Ave. before moving to its current location in the former downtown Des Moines fire station at 900 Mulberry St.

At its grand opening in 2014, the Social Club unveiled the Kum & Go Theater, which boasts an auditorium, downstairs bar and rooftop. The 30,000-square-foot venue has an art gallery, a recording studio, performance art and rental spaces and a coffee shop.

The Social Club offered hundreds of community classes each month on topics such as dancing, cooking and writing. It showcased local artists, theater and bands, operated an annual food truck festival and threw a large annual New Year's Eve party — all at lower prices so people of all income levels could participate.

Yet the organization, which relied on a combination of ticket sales and donations, was unable to sustain its funding model, the board announced in June.

The organization's tax forms show net losses of $395,329 in fiscal year 2017, $255,136 in 2016 and $1,585,158 in 2015. The nonprofit reported that it was $1.7 million in debt in fiscal year 2017.

A statement on behalf of the Des Moines Social Club's board of directors sent Wednesday says it's time for the organization to "imagine what is next."

"We understand that we must be open to new ideas, energy and leadership," the statement says. "While the programming may not look like it has in the past, we welcome the possibilities that come with the evolution of this glorious facility in the continuing mission to create unprecedented community engagement."

Additional requests for comment from board president Mac Stanfield were not immediately returned.

Social Club leaders first reached out for input on changing the organization about six weeks ago, Tauscheck said. The idea of operating a public market in the building sprung from a meeting with a group of stakeholders.

"In life, you try things, and sometimes what you originally planned for needs to be adapted,"  Polk County Supervisor Matt McCoy said.

The reorganization plans for the social club have moved quickly, Tauscheck said. The existing 501(c)(3) will remain in place, and that organization will continue to own the building, she said.

Events scheduled for 2019 are expected to remain the same, but organizers will reach out to people who reserved space in 2020 to see if the new vision will fit with their plans.

Some social club employees still work at the building, but staffing is expected to change as the reorganization occurs, said Jay Byers, CEO of the Greater Des Moines Partnership.

The Social Club spent about $8 million moving in and renovating the old fire station, known as Firehouse No. 1. It purchased the building from Des Moines in 2013 for $630,000, when the city moved its fire headquarters to 1330 Mulberry St.

Any changes in use and/or ownership of the building within 10 years first must be approved by the Des Moines City Council, according to the purchase agreement.

Leaders at Principal Financial, Wells Fargo, Kum & Go and the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines pumped nearly $3.5 million into the firehouse project with the belief that the Social Club could drive Des Moines' quality of life, contributing to a culture able to attract and retain top-talent employees and their dollars.

"There were a lot of investors in the Social Club originally. So we want to see this thing work," Knous said. "We're gonna come around it, re-imagine it and watch it grow and thrive."

Source: https://www.desmoinesregister.com