In 1979, Des Moines Performing Arts was nothing more than the dream of a small group of Des Moines business leaders seeking a replacement to the recently closed KRNT Theater. That dream not only included a new performing arts center, but also a revitalized downtown Des Moines.
The idea grew to a local bond option on the 1974 ballot, which needed 60% approval to pass. The issue was narrowly defeated, receiving only 54%.
Undaunted by the narrow defeat, these Des Moines business leaders decided to form a privately held, not-for-profit corporation to build and run a performing arts facility. In less than 90 days, more than $9 million was pledged for the project. The dream was on its way to becoming a reality. In a unique collaboration of public and private support, the city of Des Moines committed two blocks of property on which to build a theater and an adjacent plaza. Private sources contributed the money to build and equip both.
In June of 1979, the Des Moines Civic Center opened its doors to the public. A magnificent structure was designed by the Des Moines architectural firm of Charles Hebert & Associates. The Civic Center features a 76-foot wide by 28-foot high proscenium stage, which is the focal point for a fan-shaped continental seating area that accommodates an audience of 2,735. Audiences enjoy excellent sight lines with this seating design and no seat is farther than 145 feet from center stage. Two spectacular, triangle-shaped lobbies with 50 foot ceilings, glass walls, skylights and walkways complete the public areas of the building. The Civic Center also has a flexible performance and meeting space called the StonerTheater. Located on the ground level of the Civic Center, the theater seats as many as 200 people.
Today Des Moines Performing Arts still functions as a private, not-for-profit corporation. It has become the cornerstone of Des Moines' downtown redevelopment. Des Moines Performing Arts is the performing home of the Des Moines Symphony, Drama Workshop, and Stage West. Since opening in 1979, the Civic Center has been host to major Broadway touring companies, performers and groups. It is nationally recognized as an excellent facility in which to perform.
That dream of years ago did become a reality and sparked a revitalization of downtown Des Moines that continues today. Like downtown, the future looks bright and promising at Des Moines Performing Arts.