Historic Val Air Ballroom for sale

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Friday, December 9, 2016

The Val Air Ballroom, a West Des Moines venue that has hosted concerts, proms and other events for nearly 80 years, is for sale.

Its Michigan-based owner is asking $2.6 million for the property.

The concert hall will continue hosting events while on the market, but the long-term future of the venue remains unclear. A report from the nonprofit Neighborhood Development Corp. says the building needs roughly $1.1 million in repairs to bring it up to modern standards. But the report, which was commissioned by the city of West Des Moines, also says the building would likely qualify for designation as a cultural landmark, which would make it eligible for historic tax credits to help pay for a renovation.

New development is possible. The ballroom sits on 8.5 acres of land in the Valley Junction Area, which could attract developers who want to demolish the venue to build apartments or commercial properties.

Christopher Stafford, director at NAI Optimum, the West Des Moines commercial real estate firm marketing the property, said he thinks the parcel is big enough for both new development and the continued operation of an entertainment venue.

“Our development community is creative enough that with the correct buyer, vision and city support there is a new chapter ready to be written for the Val Air Ballroom,” he said.

The Val Air is owned by Pedro Zamora, a suburban Detroit-based venue owner and concert producer, who paid $1.1 million for the property in 2003.

Zamora said the ballroom has been quietly for sale for several months but is now being more actively marketed.

“We’re not desperate” to sell it, he said. “If something comes up, great. If not, we’ll keep operating it the way it is.”

Some say the 77-year-old building has seen better days. Chris Cardani, a former manager of the ballroom, thinks a total overhaul will be required.

“The electrical is old. The plumbing is getting bad,” he said. “It’s just to the point where it needs a bunch of money thrown into it.”

The 31,000-square-foot ballroom sits near the corner of Ashworth Road and 63rd Street, on the north side of Valley Junction, an area West Des Moines leaders are hoping to revitalize. The city has commissioned a $200,000 master plan and taken public input on how to breathe new life into the district.

Opened in 1939, the Val Air has been a staple of the Des Moines music scene for decades, spanning the years from big band concerts to hip hop shows.

It was originally an open-air dance hall, built from the remnants of an unfinished tire manufacturing plant. The name – a mix of Valley Junction and open air – was picked through a naming competition that drew more than 2,000 entries.

In 1954, a major renovation enclosed the dance hall and put an addition on the building.

Over the decades, the Val Air’s stage has hosted the likes of Duke Ellington, Lawrence Welk, B.B. King, Bob Dylan, Merle Haggard, Rick Springfield, Slipknot, Korn, Tech N9ne and hundreds more. Today, the venue now often hosts boxing matches, political rallies and birthday parties.

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