After several years of development and project changes, The Quarter riverfront-revitalization project in East Moline is nearly ready to break ground.
Last week, the East Moline City Council directed city staff to begin the process of issuing bonds that will be used for infrastructure improvements to the brownfield development. Construction of an approximately one-mile road to the riverfront could begin within the next two or three months.
Also in the next few months, Dial Quad Cities, Incorporated - a subsidiary of Nebraska-based Dial Realty Development - will begin construction on one set of duplex condominiums on the riverfront. Dial is scheduled to build 16 units of housing as part of The Quarter project.
"It sure is nice to finally see it kicking off," said Brian Speer, president of Dial Quad Cities.
"We're happy," said Lyn Paris, executive vice president of REDEEM (Revitalize and Develop East Moline). "It's been a rather laborious process, but we have a project."
Joseph Duffy, East Moline's development-services director, compared the construction to "putting a seed out and drawing some interest"; as the first part of The Quarter to actually get underway, the Dial Quad Cities condos could be seen as a test case for the rest of the project.
The Quarter includes a handful of "districts" that are meant to connect the East Moline riverfront with its existing downtown. The main features of the project are a Mississippi River Interpretive Center; a regional sports center featuring indoor and outdoor sporting facilities; a public marina; a multi-modal transit facility; a theme restaurant; and high-end housing.
When it was originally conceived, it was expected that The Quarter would cost more than $15 million to build. "It's probably going to cost more," Duffy said.
The project is developer-driven, meaning that the city markets its plans but needs real-estate companies to come forward and make proposals for the land. That has left the city at the whims of the free market and has resulted in The Quarter not really having any set time frame.
But it's also limited the city's investment; East Moline will have spent approximately $2.4 million on a road in the development but expects to get all that money back through Tax Increment Financing.
Paris said his organization and the City of Moline have worked hard to attract developers. "We're not waiting for someone to knock on our door," he said. "We actively recruited both Kaizen [Company of America, original developer of the project] and Dial."
There have been numerous re-configurations of the Quarter. Last year, Kaizen withdrew from the housing portion. The company was scheduled to build 36 loft-style condominium units, but after nearly a year of marketing, "we were seeing virtually no interest," said Kent Pilcher, a partner in Kaizen and president of Estes Company.
With Kaizen's withdrawal, East Moline re-thought the project and decided on lower-density housing. Dial Quad Cities, which has more experience in housing than Kaizen, stepped in with plans to build more-traditional townhouse condos. (Perry Gere of Gere Dismer Architects designed the condos in the style of a harbor community.)
And last month, Kaizen decided not to build planned office space in the development, which had already been scaled back to 20,000 square feet from 30,000. Pilcher said the city was ready to proceed with commercial component, but Kaizen didn't like what it was seeing. "We waited ourselves into a new market," Pilcher said. "The local economy softened enough that there wasn't the depth of the Class A market that there had been."
Kaizen - a partnership between Pilcher and Chuck Ruhl of Ruhl & Ruhl - is still involved in plans for Class A office space in downtown Davenport, as part of the River Renaissance on the Mississippi project. Pilcher said the planned first phase of office development - 10,000 square feet - is much less than the East Moline proposal, and added that there's demand in downtown Davenport because there's presently no Class A space - high-end office facilities priced at $13 to $14 a square foot.
Kaizen's pulling out has opened the door for other developers to step in. Dial Quad Cities is one of two companies interested in the land that Kaizen had planned for office space. (Duffy would not identify the second developer.)
"We know that if there was a market for Class A, they [Kaizen] would have done it," Speer said. Dial Quad Cities and the other interested developer are supposed to submit proposals for the land - to be reviewed by the city and the not-for-profit REDEEM, which developed the original plan for The Quarter - by the middle of August.
Speer said Dial is contemplating a mixed-use development incorporating residential, commercial, and office space. Duffy said East Moline hopes The Quarter might still include an office component.
Duffy also said that the changes to the project have not hurt its integrity. "It's gone through a number of re-writes," he said. "That's not that unusual."
Even in greenfield areas, he said, projects go through several sets of plans. The difference is that The Quarter has been developed in a public setting because it involves public financing and public land. "This has all been put out in the public since the very beginning," he said.
Speer said Dial is confident that The Quarter will work. "All the project needs is some momentum," he said.
Yet the first two condos will be a test. Priced at approximately $300,000, the two residences will need to draw interest from potential residents and other developers who might want to build other components of the project.
If not, the rest of the condos might not be built soon, and the area will sit undeveloped. Paris said he's hopeful that whatever replaces the office component of the project might begin construction this year.
But if it doesn't happen, that wouldn't be the end of The Quarter. "This site's not going to go away," Duffy said. "There's still next year."