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WATERLOO, Iowa --- For local officials, Cedar Valley TechWorks has been the center of their dream of rebuilding downtown Waterloo.

That dream took a major step toward reality today with the announcement of a $50 million project that will transform the 40-acre parcel of land on the western edge of downtown into a center for business, manufacturing and tourism, according to officials.

The centerpiece will be the renovated "Tech 2" building --- donated to the city by John Deere --- including a 100-room hotel and restaurant complex and "green" office space.

Plans for The Green @ TechWorks and the John Deere Waterloo Tractor and Engine Museum were unveiled today. The announcment was made at the TechWorks campus by leaders from the city, Deere & Co., the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance & Chamber with Rodney Blackwell of Davenport-based investor FDP Properties and Brian Vandewalle of Davenport-based redeveloper Vandewalle & Associates Inc.

Together with renaissance projects along the Cedar River, the project is a keystone of the downtown redevelopment. Those projects include a river walk, amphitheater and housing --- and redevelopment of areas surrounding the Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center, including the new SportsPlex and the old Courier building.

"We've been talking about TechWorks since before I got here almost eight years ago, and plans for downtown redevelopment have stretched back farther than that, when Waterloo began to get very serious about renewing the downtown area and revitalizing its core, and now we've begun to see the fruits of that," said Steve Dust, CEO of the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance & Chamber and president of TechWorks.

"We've always talked about the monumental development project that's required to really get the downtown revitalization process moving with the private and public sector, and here it is."

The plans include:

  • Multi-purpose projects across the TechWorks campus, including an "upscale" 100-room hotel-restaurant complex in the "Tech 2" building, focused on the needs of business travelers and tourists. Developers said the hotel would be run under a major national banner but did not disclose the brand because the contract has not been awarded to one of two finalists. The Russell Wasendorf family, which owns PFGBest in Cedar Falls and runs the My Verona restaurant in downtown Cedar Falls, will have "primary interest" in the restaurant, Dust said.
  • "Class A" showroom and office space in Tech 2.
  • A new fully equipped training center for John Deere employees.
  • The Deere museum, which is scheduled to open in the spring of 2013.
  • Commitment to redevelop Waterloo's "Main & Main" location at Fourth and Commercial streets around the convention center.
  • A "green zone" of industrial and commercial business activity, designed to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards --- with the "Gold" level being the goal --- and powered by a wind/solar energy system, with an eye toward attracting more "green-oriented" businesses, Deere suppliers and others.
  • Continuing work on a manufacturing prospect that would occupy 25,000 square feet of space in Tech 1, the Advanced Technology & Energy Center and additional projects to be delivered over the next 10 years across the campus and downtown.

"The mission for the Tech 1 building remains the same," Dust said. "This is going to be the center for production in research and development on various types of products, but more of a manufacturing environment."

Construction on the project is planned to begin in late August or early September, with expected completion about a year later, Blackwell said.

The plan received quick approval at a city council meeting Monday night.

"It wouldn't happen without that kind of developer," Waterloo Mayor Buck Clark said.

Dust said getting the development agreement was crucial for FDP to pursue new tax credits, as well as historic rehabilitation credits for the projects. A plan will be brought to Waterloo's Planning and Zoning Commission for approval of site plan and other details.

Clark said Blackwell's vision is making it happen.

"We bring him to town to look at something else, and he drives by this old industrial building that's a shell and said, 'That's the one I want.'"

Blackwell said a first glance at the TechWorks buildings immediately drew him in.

"I used to and still specialize in old real estate, and the bones of that building are incredible," he said. "It's easy to adapt in my mind. I can visualize what we can do with it. Even more amazingly, Brian found a photo of something identical to what we're going to try and capture there. I think that gives a flavor and flair for what we're trying to pull off."

Talk has been rampant for the last couple of years that other tenants would join the University of Northern Iowa's National Ag-Based Lubricants Center as tenants in Tech 1. At least one other tenant is on the cusp of announcing intentions to move into the building, said Cary Darrah, TechWorks general manager.

"We'd hope to do that in 30 days. We've been in discussion," she said. " They're committed in other areas of this project."

She named two alternative-energy companies --- Marin, Calif.-based solar firm iPower and Toronto-based wind turbine company Cleanfield Energy --- as two active participants.

Dust acknowledged development of the TechWorks project has not gone as quickly as had been hoped, but he said that is now bound to change.

"One of the reasons it hasn't already snowballed is, we, as TechWorks, have not been able to access the capital to prepare the space for the businesses to occupy," he said. "This development solves a lot of that, as it relates to the T2 (Tech 2). As I said earlier, it's delivering the entire T2 building --- half of it dedicated to the hotel and half dedicated to a new kind of space that we have not seen in this marketplace before."

Blackwell credited Deere, which originally donated the two six-story former manufacturing plants and 40-acre parcels of land to the project in 2007.

"I think Deere has kind of inspired it," he said. "I just liked the building. It will be alive again."

So will other parts of downtown Waterloo, Clark noted.

"Boy, what an exciting time for Waterloo," he said. "If you stop to think about all the things that we either already have or are going to be announcing just in downtown, it's incredible."

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Business Editor at The Courier

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