EAST MOLINE — Developers of The Bend of the Mighty Mississippi plan to open local residents’ eyes wide by serving a big July 3 appetizer.
The group plans to open a huge eight-foot fountain currently under construction on the former Case-IH property and let people tour it all day.
Developers of the property, once named The Fountainhead of the Quad-Cities, have maintained early plans to feature a giant fountain as an entryway to the development, said property manager Mike VanDeHeede.
The fountain will welcome people to the new Murphy Park, named in honor of Dan Murphy, owner of developer Great River Property. The park also will feature an 11,000-square-foot welcome center containing a local restaurant yet to be named, VanDeHeede said.
The entrance will lead to a nine-story Hyatt hotel, the first co-branded Hyatt House/Hyatt Place, which VanDeHeede said was designed by one of the world’s premiere hotel chains.
Representatives of seven companies currently working on the project recently discussed the evolving project with members of the Dispatch-Argus Editorial Board.
According to VanDeHeede, the hotel is scheduled to open by October. Some exterior work and extensive cleaning is about all that’s left to do, he said.
A three-acre strip mall also should be done by October. That element of the development recently announced it first business partner, QC Mart owner Bill Earnst.
VanDeHeede said the welcome center, featuring a band shell and a “well-known” restaurant yet to be named, is expected to be completed by November. Concerts at the venue could begin late this fall, he said.
Almost every part of the massive project is running on time and budget, VanDeHeede said. The roads leading to the hotel all have been paved, he said, and are ready for use.
When completed, the $80 million complex will include a hotel, retail outlets, restaurants, apartments and offices on a 132-acre site that once was home to a Case-IH plant.
RIVER IS THE STAR
The hotel will feature a 134-room Hyatt Place as well as a 99-room Hyatt House for extended-stay customers. The Olympia Companies, based in Portland, Maine, was selected to manage the new co-branded facility.
The focus on extended stay lodging, VanDeHeede said, didn’t come by accident.
“We did a ton of research and a ton of time with the leading companies like Deere, Kone and Arconic, asking them, ‘What do you need? What amenities do you want?’”
Their answer, he said, was they wanted a safe place with all the amenities — a nice restaurant, a beautiful hotel and an amazing view of the Mississippi River. In what VanDeHeede calls “the greatest accident that ever happened,” every room in the hotel has a glorious view of the river.
“The Mississippi River is the star of the show,” said co-owning businessman Mike Jacobs, a former state senator from East Moline. He said the two places people who don’t live in the Quad-Cities want to see are “Disneyland and the Mississippi River.”
The men said top Quad-Cities employers also explained that they needed extended-stay locations for employees assigned to two- or three-month tasks.
Extended-stay units have increased astronomically in popularity, according to construction manager Matt Gliniecki of Russell Construction, who’s been highly involved in the project.
“I’ve been building hotels for quite some time,” he said. “In today’s society, we’ve become a much more mobile workforce and are focused on a group working on a problem for two or three months.
ARMY OF WORKERS REQUIRED
It has taken a small army to get The Bend this far.
Between 110 to 120 workers have been on site daily, Gliniecki said. Add another 50 or 60 workers for the project’s road construction.
Local union halls are empty, VanDeHeede said, as the project competes with the new Interstate 74 bridge construction, the John Deere Road expansion, and other Quad-Cities construction projects.
Finding enough carpenters, laborers, operators, plumbers, electricians, iron workers, and sheet-metal workers — basically all trades — willing to work hard has, at times, been a struggle, organizers said.
According to VanDeHeede, local unions in the past have been limited in how many laborers they could bring into the Quad-Cities market from outside the region.
“Now, they can bring in as many people as they can,” he said.
For both April and May, the Quad-Cities unemployment rate was 3.5 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Illinois Department of Employment Security. In May 2017, local unemployment was 4 percent.
Over that year, the local workforce also has grown — from 185,300 in May 2017 to 188,000 in May 2018.
“Everybody couldn’t be happier about it,” said VanDeHeede.
CLEARING CONSTRUCTION OBSTACLES
Reports earlier this year that East Moline officials had voted against extending more credit to the development created some undue attention, VanDeHeede said.
In actuality, he said, all the city council members wanted was clarification of information they couldn’t obtain when East Moline’s former city finance director, Megan Petersen, assumed a Scott County post.
Once that information was obtained, VanDeHeede said, council members OK’d the project.
“Now we’ve had a great partnership with the city,” he said. “We’ve also had relatively few complications.”
Project organizers said the massive site has required fewer remedial steps than originally expected. In large part, many credit Mike VanDeHeede with that because of his role in selecting “a ton of good people — the best of the best,” according to the hotel management’s representative, Ray Stoddard.
“From the general contractors to the Olympia management company,” Stoddard said. “They are the absolute best resources available.”
Gliniecki said that focus on quality will be evident when the hotel’s first guests arrive in early October.
“When the first customer checks in, they will be greeted to quality restaurant choices for a nice local-themed restaurant to go along with the river theme,” he said.
AN EFFERVESCENT EFFORT
Brad Treiber of Treiber Construction in Davenport knows firsthand of VanDeHeede’s ardor for The Bend.
“Mike’s enthusiasm is contagious,” Treiber said, recalling VanDeHeede’s vision for the entryway to the development. They exchanged different fountain designs, he said, including one VanDeHeede had spotted in Kentucky.
“He approached me and said, ‘Hey, I want to build a fountain,’” said Treiber, the fourth generation to run his family’s construction firm.
“He talked about making it a magnet — a special place — to greet people as they come in,” Treiber said. “And we’ll unveil it July 3.
“This will be powerful at drawing people,” he said.
PROJECT BORN ON BIKE PATH
It’s hard to imagine how two East Moline guys made it all happen, VanDeHeede said.
He said he and Jacobs stood on the nearby bike path five years ago, agreeing they had to do something to spur economic growth in the area.
“What we did really turned into something,” VanDeHeede said.
“We made a once-proud historic area great again,” he said. “We took a unique place and transformed it into what it has become.”
According to VanDeHeede, The Bend has provided the Quad-Cities with a blank canvas on which to present something really upscale. The Quad-Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau is already taking reservations for amenities yet to be offered at the Hyatt and related properties.
“It’s what East Moline needs,” VanDeHeede said. “It’s what the Illinois side needs. It needs this kind of investment to know we can support one another.”
He said that as The Bend grows, the developers have tried to make the project as visible as possible to area residents. That included tearing down a chain-link fence that once encircled the site.
Some contractors didn’t want the fencing torn down, VanDeHeede said. But the first week it was removed, he said, he got thank-you calls from 25 people.
Soon, he said, the memory of that fencing will be replaced by “impeccable landscaping” created by a team from Heritage Landscape Design in Moline led by company president Troy Lewis.
Lewis said the work is a team effort, with lead landscaper Kyle Rose performing the 3-D modeling needed to create the site design incorporation the fountain, berms and other aspects.
The development also has led to other nearby projects. According to VanDeHeede, East Moline businessman Larry Anderson is preparing plans that include a fresh-food market, a business incubator and a concert venue named the Rust Belt planned by Sean Moeller. Anderson has bought a nearby 40-acre industrial complex off East Moline’s 7th Street.
“He’s also talked about running a trolley to area hot spots,” VanDeHeede said of Anderson. “He’s an amazing guy, a great idea man.”
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