The old Franklin Junior High building in Des Moines closed as a school in 1979.

Former junior high in Des Moines could become mixed-use space

May 7, 2019
Developer wants to convert former Franklin Junior High facility into hotel and entertainment venue.

A developer wants to renovate a former junior high school in Des Moines, Iowa, into a mixed-use entertainment venue with hotel rooms, office space, a restaurant and a bar.

The Des Moines Register reports that the proposal for the Franklin Junior High School building calls for an $8 million remodeling that would create:

  • A restaurant in the former cafeteria;
  • A small bar in the former science lab;
  • Boutique hotel rooms, offices, and small retail spaces in the former classrooms;
  • Gymnasium space for rent by community groups and schools;
  • A small outdoor cafe and patio;
  • Soaking pools in the courtyard;
  • Six auditoriums that can seat a minimum of 100 and a maximum of 4,200 people for concerts, weddings, community plays or dance recitals;
  • Other concession-stand-type bars that would serve concerts and other events.

Developer Jeff Young, owner of We Can Build It, is one city council vote away from carrying out his plans for the building.

The project has both support and opposition from the neighborhood. Those for the project say they want to see life returned to the long-vacant and underused building.

Those against it are worried about excessive traffic, trash and noise.

"From a neighborhood development perspective, I'm really excited about the businesses that this will bring — not only a place to go eat, but when my parents come visit ... a hotel they can stay at," says Teva Dawson, who lives a few blocks from the school and is helping with project management.

Construction on Franklin Junior High  began in 1948. It operated as a school from 1951 to 1979.

First Federated Church bought the property in 1980. The church took over a portion of the space and leased the rest to Des Moines Christian School, which operated there until  2005.

First Federated opened a $5 million, 4,000-seat sanctuary in 1987 on the west side of the building. The church sold the building about five years ago.

It had been vacant until Young bought the 213,000-square-foot building for $2 million about a year ago. 

Young has opened the building for work conferences, neighborhood potlucks and school concerts. It's become a backdrop for several presidential candidates' events.

The Des Moines City Council is expected to vote May 20 on a request to rezone the property. Young needs the building rezoned so it can operate as a hotel, restaurant and concert venue with a liquor license.

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