Mixed Use: The Wilkins Building

The Mixed Use category features properties that combine both commercial and residential use. Notable aspects include, but are not limited to, minimized environmental impact, accessibility to affordable or mixed market-rate housing, use of sustainable building materials, utilization of energy-efficient technologies, plus the integration of walkability, placemaking, and alternative transportation options.

Our Mixed Use Award goes to Blackbird Investments for The Wilkins Building in Des Moines. This project is an adaptive reuse of the historic Wilkins’ Department Store. The six-story building now features four stories of residential units (sixty units in total) and 20,000 square feet of commercial space.

Initially constructed for the Wilkins’ Department Store in 1909, the Wilkins Building was the first reinforced concrete building in Des Moines, IA (known as the first fireproof dry goods store in the region). In 1924, this building was acquired by the Younkers Brothers and annexed into their newly constructed building, the adjacent Younkers Department Store. The east wall of the building was opened and the alley between the two buildings infilled with connecting structure, creating a half block continuous structure. Significant for its association to the Younker Brothers Department store, the Wilkins Building is the only structural remains of the May 2014 “Younkers Fire,” which destroyed the Younkers Department Store Building (east block) and critically damaged the Wilkins Building. Of greatest importance is the former Younkers Tea Room, housed on the sixth floor of the Wilkins Building, which suffered massive damage.

In Des Moines, the Tea Room is iconic. Throughout the decades of the 1900s, the Younkers Tea Room stood alone in the city of Des Moines as a place unmatched in its beauty. Now, three years removed from catastrophic fire, the Tea Room, Garden Room, and Lounge feature fully restored plaster wall sculptures, figurines, statuaries, trim, tile, and woodwork that dates to the early 1900s. The sixteen large windows fill the space with an abundance of natural light unlike any other venue in Des Moines. The restoration has returned the fire-damaged space of the original Tea Room to its earlier grandeur and magnificence, with the addition of modern enhancements.

The mixed-use Wilkins Building also includes ground floor retail, commercial space, and art gallery space.

Site improvements contribute to the larger effort to bring a mix of use and activity to the heart of Des Moines. The apartments feature a mix of income restricted and market rate units. Energy-efficient construction used includes maximized daylighting (large historic windows), operable windows, 100% LED lighting with smart sensors, dimming capability occupancy controlled sensors, green streets energy requirements, energy recovery ventilator for high quality indoor air (recovers 60%), Energy Star appliances, reuses up to 98% reuse of existing materials, and features permeable walk surfaces.

The project promotes transportation alternatives with 32 parking stalls in the basement of the building with dedicated indoor and outdoor bike stations and a skywalk connection.

<Click here to read about the rest of our Award recipients.>

People United for Responsible Land Use