EAST MOLINE — The city now owns a piece of The Bend on the Mighty Mississippi.
City council members at the May 20 regular meeting approved a deal with Great River Property Development owner Mike VanDeHeede, who also is one of the investors behind The Bend, 1100 3rd St., to purchase a three-acre parcel of land for $1.
The parcel, known as Murphy Park, is the site of an outdoor amphitheater in the center of the property. The park includes two miles of paved walkways, which will be surrounded by gardens and a fountain.
Approval of the purchase was opposed by Alds. Nancy Mulcahey, Ward 3, and Gary Almblade, Ward 2, who tried and failed to table the agreement for one year.
"East Moline will be losing cash revenue from the purchase of this land," Almblade said, referring to property taxes that would have to be paid on the land if The Bend retained ownership. "I am proposing a year delay on the purchase agreement to see what our actual (property tax) revenues are and see if we can recoup what the possible losses are and go from there."
"Aren't we kind of sabotaging ourselves in a way because we want to see how much money this park brings into the city?" Ald. J.R. Rico, Ward 7, countered to Almblade's point. "We should be doing it the other way around. If it doesn't make us the amount of money we're losing in property taxes, then give it back to them in a year. We'll be getting public space right on the riverfront with the ability to have a lot of events."
Mulcahey reminded council members the city has a bond payment that will soon be due.
"If we don't have the property tax, as a city, we will have to come up with that amount of money," Mulcahey said. "I feel we are premature in taking this property over. We would be responsible for the maintenance. If their property tax payment is $10,000, that's going to get wiped off the books" if the city takes ownership of the land.
VanDeHeede said there was a misunderstanding; the city will never be responsible for maintaining the park and band shell area. Maintenance work includes mowing the grass, taking care of the fountain, and upkeep of the band shell.
"It's $1 to buy it, so you're not putting any money out," VanDeHeede said. "We will maintain it, always, always, always. And now it's a public space for the city to use, so you can have city events in there.
"There's no loss for the city in revenue. I don't know how you came up with $10,000 in property taxes for a three-acre park with no buildings on it — just a band shell. In a million years that's not a $10,000 property-tax revenue generator, ever."
"It was an estimate," Mulcahey said.
"Your estimate is out of line," VanDeHeede said. "That's not even close."
Interim City Administrator Doug Maxeiner said the city would be responsible for trash pickup.
VanDeHeede reaffirmed that his company would maintain the property.
"We'd love to do it. We'll take over maintenance of the park; we're team players," VanDeHeede said. "We want to utilize that space to bring everybody down to The Bend. The more people we get down to The Bend the better it is for East Moline."
VanDeHeede said he wanted to sell the land to the city because as a private owner, Great River Property Development would have to charge admission to visitors and fees from groups renting the space, including nonprofit groups. A publicly owned event space is exempt from certain fees, making it more affordable for other groups to use the park, he said.
Almblade repeated his motion to delay purchasing the property for another year.
"We're not open to that," VanDeHeede interjected. "It's either going to be a public park or a private park. We're not going back and spending any more money with our legal team. We spent over $15,000 to get this deal put together; we negotiated back and forth with the city attorney and our attorney. We're not willing to put one more penny into it. You take it or leave it.
"We've got events planned; we've got to get insurance; we need to get a liquor license," VanDeHeede said. "We've got a schedule already planned. We've got 16 concerts and a weekend event already planned. We can't get insurance or a liquor license until we find out if it's public or private."
Almblade's motion to table purchase of the property failed, with Alds. Larry Toppert, Ward 1; Jayne O'Brien, Ward 4; Maria Tapia, Ward 6; and Rico opposed to the delay.
Ald. Frederic Kotoku, Ward 5, was absent.
Tyler Murphy, of Murphy Park Events, is the event organizer for the park and band shell. Murphy told council members he is working with other East Moline businesses on plans to use the space.
"We're trying to make it something really fun for the community," Murphy said. "I feel like this deal is a good safety blanket for the city. If you don't take this deal, we'll probably just go private. I've waited long enough."
Toppert said the city should have control of the property because of the potential of noise ordinance violations.
VanDeHeede said noise would not be an issue.
"There is a 233-room Hyatt Hotel there — do you think I'm going to have noise problems with the people in my Hyatt? No way," VanDeHeede said. "We're not going all night; I've got 233 people trying to fall asleep in that hotel."
"We're not looking to do crazy events," Murphy said. "We're not here to break any ordinances."