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A pump track, a giant waterspout, and a rooftop restaurant: Moline advances plans for land under old I-74 bridge

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As demolition of piers and ramps for the old Interstate 74 bridge in downtown Moline gets closer, plans for using the long-dark land below them also are advancing.

At the fore of popular concepts is a skate park that could be built under a section of the new bridge, a roof-top restaurant at the city-owned Spiegel Building and the creation of a shopping and recreational area just west of the new bridge, dubbed Mill Town Basin.

The redevelopment of riverfront and near-riverfront land downtown frequently is labeled one of the biggest and most important projects ever for Moline and the region. The city has for years been preparing a plan for developing land that for decades has existed in the shadows of concrete and steel.

Renew Moline, the nonprofit group that focuses on economic development in the city, has worked with land-use specialists from the Urban Land Institute to come up with ideas. They also have solicited both in-person and virtual input from the public.

The Moline City Council this week was asked to endorse some of the concepts that have been identified as priorities. Support for most of them was unanimous.

"The direction provided by council on Tuesday evening allows us to support city staff in developing work plans, timelines and budgets for the projects," Alexandria Elias, Renew's president and CEO, said. "Naturally, those would go back to mayor (and) council for further refinement as appropriate and final approval. The projects have varying degrees of complexity, cost and challenges and thus will have varying timelines."

Some of the first ideas to garner attention were a waterspout that would shoot 200-to-400 feet above the river and be visible from the new bridge and a zip line from the former KONE tower to a small offshore island.

But another concept is gaining momentum, partly because the public's response to it was particularly favorable. A skate park and pump track (a circuit ridden by cyclists who generate momentum by using body movements, rather than pedaling) could be built underneath a new downtown overpass.

The feature was not popular with one city official, former public works director and 7th Ward Alderman Mike Waldron. He categorized a previous experience with a skate park at Browning Park as "an unmitigated disaster" and said he does not support another attempt.

"It's a horrible idea, but you go ahead and do what you want," Waldron said during Tuesday's meeting. "I lived through the Browning Park skate park. I don't want to pick up another hypodermic needle."

The skate-park criticism was one of few negative responses to the redevelopment ideas. Aldermen were otherwise enthusiastic about specific plans, especially for Mill Town Basin, which would be located west of the new bridge.

A water basin would be created in the area between the Mississippi River and River Drive and could be surrounded by retail kiosks, year-round recreational offerings and other features.

Alderman Sam Moyer, 5th Ward, said he's "a huge fan" of the basin concept, and Alderman Alvaro Macias, 2nd Ward, called it "a really cool idea."

Mill Town Basin would be "a great differentiator," Alderman Matt Timion, 4th Ward, said. "I really like this because nobody else is doing this in the Quad-Cities."

Uses for the Spiegel Building near the foot of the new River Drive off-ramp also were the subject of considerable enthusiasm, especially after an architect proposed a rooftop space that could be used as a restaurant.

Before the new bridge was built, the Spiegel was largely disconnected from the downtown, but it has since emerged as a high-visibility property. Its reuse currently is intended as an arts-dominant "socializing and shopping experience," Elias said.

Meanwhile, some new ideas were put forth, and some aldermen appeared to have doubts about another.

Alderman Mike Wendt, 3rd Ward, asked whether it would be possible to convert the hydro dam at Sylvan Island into navigable rapids, such as those that existed there decades ago. He also proposed making use of two pillars from the old bridge that are to be spared from demolition to protect mussel habitats.

He suggested considering a boat-up movie and/or concert venue, which could be economically created by stretching a "sail" between the pillars to mimic a video screen that would be visible by shore or by boat.

Wendt also was one of several aldermen who questioned the value of the proposed waterspout, noting the area identified for it is used by a rowing club, the Channel Cat water taxis and other river traffic.

Alderman James Patrick Schmidt said the waterspout interested him, but he doubted it would be enough of a bridge-traffic draw to generate more downtown foot traffic.

Timion suggested "a really cool compromise" could result from the creation of additional or alternative water features.

One major next step for the downtown riverfront will be the creation of a master plan, which would sharpen the focus of the city's large collection of major projects. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources will be consulted throughout, given the agencies' mandatory role in river-related developments.

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