Cedar Valley TechWorks

WATERLOO | State approval of the Cedar Valley TechWorks project has been described as the last major obstacle to bridging the development’s vision to reality.

Now, that obstacle is gone.

On Tuesday, the Iowa Economic Development Board in Des Moines approved the maximum amount of $12 million for the TechWorks Campus Reinvestment District plan submitted by the city of Waterloo.

TechWorks, first publicly proposed by community leaders in April 2003, is a high-tech ag-based product development and manufacturing complex proposed on a portion of John Deere's former Westfield Avenue site.

The Iowa Reinvestment District Program provides for new state hotel/motel and sales tax revenues to be re-invested within urban renewal areas.

The state economic development board “approved the maximum benefit they had established contingent on receiving the final agreement between the city, the developer and TechWorks,” IEDA spokeswoman Tina Hoffman said Wednesday. “Everybody was very excited. The board was excited to move this project through. The contingent from Waterloo was really excited.”

TechWorks president Steve Dust called the board’s action the linchpin to getting the project moving ahead.

“That’s what it is -- an important last milestone -- putting final pieces of financing together,” Dust said. “This allows the developer to move toward closing as quickly as possible, allows him to mobilize his design and construction team and allows us to bring our final site design and work on site as soon as the weather breaks.”

Waterloo Mayor Buck Clark acknowledged the dream of this project, now 6 years old, has built up hopes before. Now things are different.

“This is it,” he said. “We’ve believed that before, but there’s nothing else really hanging out there at this point. We were always contingent on getting (financing) in place. This is the piece that makes it all work.”

Efforts to get historical tax credits fell short, and TechWorks has had plans, fits and starts, but now the work will begin -- and it will quickly become apparent to passers-by once the construction season allows work to commence, Clark said.

“What this means, I believe, the one word that comes to mind is 'final,'" Clark said. “We now have a funding source we can count on. This award was the piece that puts it over the hump. We’ve had many meetings over the last few weeks, we’ve met with IEDA board, with the developer and contractor who is going to build this thing. They’re sitting there with machinery ready to move. I think you’ll see something happening very, very quickly. This project will be really big for Waterloo.”

The contractor for the project is Ryan Cos. Inc., based in Minneapolis and Cedar Rapids. The company has handled other large projects for TechWorks developer Rodney Blackwell and his Davenport-based Financial District Properties. Ryan also was the project manager for the Isle Casino Hotel Waterloo when it was built in 2006-07.

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Blackwell did not immediately return requests for comment.

“They have committed to using tons of local (subcontractors) on this, so we expect the local building community to be busy with it,” Clark said.

Getting money from the state is still a long way off, although the assurance the funding will be there is a major step for TechWorks, Hoffman said.

“It’s deferral of taxes, so the project has to get built and three venues have to start flowing in, so this is a long leg,” she said.

The TechWorks district, at the west end of downtown and made up of land donated by Deere, would have a capital investment of $74.1 million and include three projects.

The first is a mixed-use development including a business-class hotel, industrial incubator, private sector lab, manufacturing maker-space and the recently opened John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum.

The second project area includes commercial out-lots such as restaurants and retailers that complement other project areas.

The third project area includes a marina for boat storage, boat sales, fuel sales and a riverfront restaurant.

Now that IEDA financing is in place, the task of marketing the development for tenants becomes easier, Dust said.

“This is kind of like the dominoes; everything can fall into place now,” Dust said. “Of course, there has been a lease in place for the Deere training center, and this allows the designer to continue work on that.”

There also are preliminary agreements with the hotel operators, Hospitality Specialists, Dust said.

“Now they’re putting documents in place,” he said.

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