Editor's note: This is the fourth in a series of articles on new developments in Quad Cities-area downtowns. The City of East Moline is taking a two-pronged approach to re-building its downtown and riverfront areas. While the public/private partnership between the city and a civic- development organization is concentrating on the major economic-development project known as The Quarter, business owners are looking to enhance the downtown by making the city a great place to live - and that includes the possibility of community theatre and arts complexes.

This approach could prove to be a model for the rest of the Quad Cities, mixing big-ticket items (The Quarter) with a grass-roots approach (the arts and rehabilitation initiatives being considered by the local business community). In essence, this would be a marriage of the economic-development approaches of cities such as Davenport (River Renaissance) and Moline (John Deere Commons) with the balanced, incremental, resident-focused approach of Rock Island. The city also has an industrial-park site adjacent to John Deere Harvester Works near its downtown, and that will be home to a new bus-transfer station next year.

The Quarter, a joint project between the city and Revitalize & Develop East Moline (REDEEM) on a former brownfield site abutting the John Deere Harvester Works, is designed to provide a link from the downtown area of the city to the riverfront. It continues to move forward since its groundbreaking last fall, although its progress is still slow. The first condo of The Quarter was sold in the past few days, for more than $500,000, according to Rich Keehner, East Moline's economic-development manager. The second unit, on the east side of the same building, is now ready for sale.

These condos, each with roughly 3,000 square feet, feature luxury appointments, including stainless-steel appliances, ceramic tile throughout, walkout patios, river views, and boat slips. According to Brian J. Speer, president of developer Dial Quad Cities, the housing component of the quarter includes six additional luxury condos on the riverfront, eight lower-priced "courtyard" units to the south, and a high-rise building to the west with between 30 and 50 housing units. "We have a lot of people that want to come here," Speer said.

Dial could start construction on two more riverfront condos and eight "courtyard" units yet this year.

In addition to residential, The Quarter project is also slated to include 20,000 square feet of office space, a retail areas, a regional sports complex, a restaurant, a marina, a visitors center, and a Mississippi River interpretive center.

At this point, though, only some of the housing and the visitors-center components are underway or have construction scheduled. Those elements are both part of Beacon Harbor, the first of four planned phases for The Quarter.

A transportation grant will pay for the visitors center (to the east of the condos), extension of the bike trail, and landscaping. The visitors center will feature tourism information, an elevated lookout, a Channel Cat ticket counter, and a lighted beacon. Construction is scheduled for spring and summer 2003.

There have also been discussions with possible commercial and restaurant tenants, Keehner said, but "nothing's in writing." REDEEM and Dial are working to lure a financial institution to put its headquarters in a riverfront location as an anchor for The Quarter.

Keehner sounds ecstatic about the recent progress. "I'm very happy," he said. "The last year and a half has been very fruitful."

As much as has happened recently, the project has been slow to develop, and it's still uncertain whether all of the planned elements will be completed. "The only thing I'm disappointed with is the pace," said Tim Knanishu, executive vice president of REDEEM. Knanishu couldn't promise that all components of The Quarter will become reality. "I'm going to do everything I can," he said. "I fervently believe these are going to happen. [But] that's going to depend on a lot of outside factors" - especially the economy.

Speer acknowledged that The Quarter has not moved forward as quickly as he would have liked - "We've had a little slow down" - because of the economy but said people who visited the site last year will be astounded by the progress. There was no road from downtown to the riverfront, and there were no condos.

The challenge with The Quarter will be to extend its influence to the central business district. The road to The Quarter's condos snakes along the edge of the John Deere Harvester Works property, and it shows just how massive The Quarter project is.

So even though the long-planned Quarter project is exciting, East Moline's downtown is moving forward with efforts of its own; The Quarter is going to require a long time to reach its full potential.

East Moline's Main Street Association, which has roughly 30 businesses, will be an integral part of downtown re-vitalization.

The organization will soon embark on a feasibility study to determine whether East Moline would support an effort to raise $900,000 for a downtown capital campaign that would include an arts center, a place for community theatre, an administrator for downtown arts, and an organization to buy and rehabilitate downtown properties.

In the next few weeks, consultant Greg Moroni will begin the $25,000 feasibility study, to which the city contributed $15,000. The identified projects would require about $900,000 in private funding and roughly that same amount in federal and state funding, estimated Jeff Guthrie, a developer who has rehabilitated multiple buildings in the East Moline area.

Keehner said the capital campaign would have four components: beautification, façade improvements, a part-time administrator for downtown, and "property improvement," a category that would include acquisitions and restorations. That latter group would also feature things such as a community art center and theatre complex or amphitheatre. Gurthrie and Tony Banaszek, who developed the first floor of the old Eagles Club at Seventh Street and 15th Avenue for now-occupied retail space, are behind plans for the arts center. Guthrie said the 10,000 square feet on the upper levels of the Eagles Club could be used for an arts-education center, with artists trading teaching time for their studio space.

Guthrie said that REDEEM and the downtown businesses aren't working at cross-purposes. REDEEM's mission "is economic development, really," Guthrie said, while he's working on making East Moline a place for families. "It kind of goes hand-in-hand," he said.

Also on the economic development end is the Great River Industrial Park across from the John Deere Harvester Works, which will be home to a new MetroLINK transfer station that will be built next year. Funded by a $1 million grant, the transfer station will also allow other businesses to capitalize on the location and economies of scale by building to the north. "It's a very positive thing for downtown," Keehner said.

Support the River Cities' Reader

Help Keep the Reader Alive and Free Since '93!

 

"We're the River Cities' Reader, and we've kept the Quad Cities' only independently owned newspaper alive and free since 1993.

So please help the Reader keep going with your one-time, monthly, or annual support. With your financial support the Reader can continue providing uncensored, non-scripted, and independent journalism alongside the Quad Cities' area's most comprehensive cultural coverage." - Todd McGreevy, Publisher