Iowa’s governor says the fire that destroyed the 115-year-old Younkers Department Store building in downtown Des Moines is “tragic” but he says it’s only a “minor setback” to redevelopment efforts in the area.
The Younkers store closed in 2005. The building was undergoing a $37 million renovation, being converted into condos and retail space, but it erupted into flames early Saturday. Governor Terry Branstad told reporters this morning at the beginning of his weekly news conference that he has “fond memories” of the store, including its Tea Room.
“I remember back when we had six-on-six girls basketball and the governor would get invited to the breakfast that the Des Moines chamber hosted for all 16 teams — the Sweet 16,” Branstad said. “The…band would play the schools’ fight songs and the girls would get up and sing their fight song and I also went to some wedding receptions and other key events there.”
A team of federal investigators will search through the rubble to try to find the cause of the fire. Branstad expects city leaders and the Wisconsin company that had been working on the building to come up with a plan B.
“It’s a tragic loss,” Branstad said this morning. “I know the city is committed to the continued revitalization of the downtown and this is a minor setback, but I’m sure that they will move forward and you know we’re very hopeful that the investigation will be able to determine what caused the fire.”
Three brothers opened the first Younkers store in Keokuk 156 years ago. A second store was opened in Des Moines in 1874. The building that burned this weekend operated as a Younkers Department Store from 1899 to 2005.
“I think just about everybody has some fond memories associated with Younkers,” Governor Branstad said.
This weekend’s massive fire damaged some nearby buildings in downtown Des Moines, breaking windows and melting part of the exterior of one office tower across the street. Sunday’s high winds whipped debris from the fire as well as broken glass through the fire zone.