Merle Hay Mall groundbreaking marks start of work on Buccaneers arena

Brandishing her shoe carnival bag, Jennifer Huss turned a corner at Merle Hay Mall on Wednesday afternoon.

“There’s the old Younkers store,” she said to herself, staring through a row of 10 tall windows into an empty room, the lights of a bleak lady’s scent showing the only sign of life.

Huss came to the mall once a week, usually for window shopping and to stretch his legs. But Younkers has been closed since 2018, and these days she’s rarely here once a month.

The Des Moines Buccaneers hold a groundbreaking ceremony for a new arena in the former Younkers store at Merle Hay Mall on Wednesday.

But that could change soon. While Huss bought a new pair of shoes Wednesday, elected officials from Des Moines, Urbandale and Polk counties gathered in the parking lot in front of the store building and shoveled a large pile of ceremonial earth to celebrate a planned transformation.

A state panel has awarded Urbandale $26.5 million to convert the old store into a 3,500-seat arena for the Des Moines Buccaneers junior hockey team. The project, which will also receive an undisclosed amount of money from the city, is key to rejuvenating the mall, officials with the team and the mall said Wednesday.

“Today is a fixed day,” said Liz Holland, CEO of Merle Hay Investors.

Opening of the arena planned for October 2023

Michael Devlin, co-owner of the Buccaneers, said developers should start work on the building next month. The team hopes to move in by next October, the start of the 2023/24 season.

Michael Devlin, co-owner of the Des Moines Buccaneers.

Officials at the team, which plays and trains at an aging arena at Hickman Road and 73rd St. in Urbandale, have said they need a facelift of facilities to attract better players. As in other sports, the Junior Hockey League holds a draft every year. But players can decline an offer if they feel the team is unable to prepare them for the next level.

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