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WATERLOO -- The largest public-private industrial revitalization project in the history of downtown Waterloo began today.

Deere & Co. this morning donated more than $17.4 million in buildings, land, technical assistance and financial resources to a nonprofit group for the development of the Cedar Valley TechWorks. The estimated $50 million bio-based agri-industrial product development and exposition marketplace will be developed over several years on about 40 acres at the company's Westfield Avenue site.

Planning has gone on the past four years, concurrent with Deere's redevelopment of its downtown Westfield Avenue site, now nearing completion.

"Redevelopment has already provided tax base and additional jobs. Now we're talking about using this property for additional jobs and tax base," said Pat Pinkston, general manager of the John Deere Waterloo Works. "This is all about creating an environment where investors will want to come to this community and create tax base. That means paying taxes and creating jobs."

Four Deere buildings totaling some 600,000 square feet of space will be renovated for Tech Works, officials close to the project said. Demolition of the balance of those mostly outdated buildings begins this spring, along with a long-awaited extension of Commercial Street. Commercial will connect Westfield Avenue and the interchange of U.S. Highway 63 and University Avenue, providing another main entrance to downtown off the highway.

The nonprofit entity Cedar Valley TechWorks Inc. received the Deere donation and will oversee development of the project. The group is made up of business leaders and representatives of the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance economic development group, Deere and the city of Waterloo.

Buildings that need to be cleared for the Commercial Street extension will come down first, TechWorks officials said. Demolition bids already have been let and a contract for that work is anticipated to be awarded soon. Site preparation for demolition will begin immediately.

"You'll see a construction fence go up Monday morning," weather permitting, said Greater Cedar Valley Alliance president Steve Dust. He also is an officer and president of Cedar Valley TechWorks Inc., which is chaired by Joe Vich, CEO of Community National Bank.

The Commercial Street project could be let and under construction as soon as a demolition schedule is determined, Waterloo City Engineer Eric Thorson said.

First tenants

Two bio-based industrial research programs of the University of Northern Iowa would be among the first TechWorks occupants: the National Ag-Based Industrial Lubricants Program, now located in Waverly, and the UNI Metal Casting Center's Center for Advanced Bio-based Binders. Preparing space for those programs are "a first order of business," officials said, and they are "archetypal of the sort of operation that will be the core of TechWorks' cutting-edge bio-products economic development research."

The first building would be occupied primarily by nonprofit research, educational and service organizations. Property taxes would be paid on those buildings occupied by for-profit firms. Hawkeye Community College may be interested in locating technology and job-training opportunities there, TechWorks officials suggested.

State Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo, has said Iowa Workforce Development may be able to work on a project with HCC to locate a worker training and education center there. A museum and visitors' center also is envisioned.

Public and private operations complementing TechWorks' goals would be able to locate at the complex, including advanced-technology educational facilities, one-stop work force centers and manufacturing. It is anticipated total development would occur over 10 or more years.

No city funds will be used for demolition work. "We will rely on donated resources," Dust said.

Record gift, valuation increase

The Deere donation -- believed to be the largest private donation ever for a single community project in Waterloo -- is being used to leverage additional private donations, Dust said. Additional public and private funds are being sought for site redevelopment, work force development and the development of alternative energy sources.

TechWorks originally was proposed in April 2003. The project is now made possible as Deere nears completion of its massive multi-year redevelopment of its downtown Westfield Avenue and East Donald Street facilities. At Westfield, it involved moving into a more efficient single-level complex.

The total floor space being donated is 1.9 million square feet in about 40 buildings of various sizes. Much of it, part of the old John Deere Waterloo Tractor Works, is multi-story and outdated. While all but about 600,000 square feet of the space would be demolished, the Deere overall redevelopment project at Westfield will result in a net increase of $6 million in valuation, said Don Temeyer, the city of Waterloo's community planning and development director.

Dust said Deere's donation of expertise and resources will help ensure the project's success. It is a goal of TechWorks to expand the local tax base, he said.

"I just see this as a great thing for the city of Waterloo and for its citizens," Mayor Tim Hurley said. "Deere has a good reputation for being a good corporate citizen, and this is an example of that. They could have walked away. Any company could have."

Pinkston said Deere is aiding in the development of TechWorks much in the same way it assisted in the redevelopment of Deere's historic home in downtown Moline, Ill. where the John Deere Commons is located.

"We could have just donated the buildings and written them off," Pinkston said. "But the property donation along with the cash was an attempt to make this a really valuable piece of property. It is a good deal. It's not in our culture to cut and run. We're still neighbors. I still have to live here."

Funding

Site development will be assisted by $3.2 million in state Grow Iowa Values funds. The city is investing about $2.5 million in streets, site development and infrastructure such as sewer, which is leveraging additional federal funding.

Temeyer said the city secured a $1.4 million state Revitalize Iowa's Sound Economy grant to fund about half of the Commercial Street extension. The balance would be financed with local option sales tax funds. The city also secured $900,000 in federal funding to connect Westfield with the U.S. Highway 63-University Avenue interchange.

A related $2.5 million storm sewer pump station is being funded mostly with federal funds and about $1 million in general obligation bonds, backed with tax increment financing revenues of property taxes generated by new development, figuring in the net additional valuation generated by the Deere redevelopment. The city also is pursuing additional funds for the site, which qualifies as a federal "brownfields" area as a former manufacturing facility.

An environmental evaluation of the site has been conducted, Pinkston said. Deere has been working with federal environmental officials for years monitoring use of the site and will continue to do so.

"This is a typical brownfields site," he said. "There's some things you have to do to make sure you manage the site appropriately. It would certainly be limited to commercial and industrial type space. But there's really nothing out there that's of any major concern."

A full-time manager for the TechWorks project will be hired as soon as possible, TechWorks officials said. Deere will loan a manager to assist with facilities management. Mike Schrage of Lockard Development of Cedar Falls would be the project manager.

TechWorks complements overall efforts by the city and the downtown nonprofit Waterloo Development Corp. to revitalize the whole of downtown through the Riverfront Renaissance plan and improvements along U.S Highway 63 through town, Dust said.

Those various projects will help continue to make Waterloo a place with a thriving economy, cutting edge technology, job opportunities and, "by God, a cool place to live," Hurley said.

Contact Pat Kinney at (319) 291-1484 or Pat.Kinney@wcfcourier.com.

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