WATERLOO — Rodney Blackwell smiled as he and his entourage from Davenport-based Financial District Properties stepped out of their vehicle and gazed upon a crowd of business and political leaders gathering in front of the “Tech 2” building at Cedar Valley TechWorks Campus.
Construction at the project is finally, officially, underway.
Local and state officials — including Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds — were there to help Blackwell officially get the process started.
Blackwell, as well as officials from TechWorks’ parent organization, the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance & Chamber, Waterloo city leaders and representatives from the Iowa Economic Development Authority officially launched construction of the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel, John Deere Training Center and restaurant in Tech 2 on the TechWorks grounds, in the northwestern corner of downtown Waterloo.
Officials said the launch was a “significant step” in the continued progress of developing The Green@TechWorks project.
“It’s been quite a journey,” Blackwell said.
A five-year journey, to be precise. Blackwell plotted the timeline for a crowd large enough to spill out of a makeshift tent set up for the occasion.
The toughest part of the trip has been the project’s fits and starts, Blackwell said.
“Not getting going was the toughest thing,” he said. “The project was gonna be started in 2014 and opening in 2015, but the feds had issues with us (applying for historical tax credits) and that left about an $8 million hole in our financing.”
A package from the Iowa Economic Development Authority and the City of Waterloo helped to plug that gap, Blackwell said.
“It was a very high bar to meet there. We were able to meet that bar,” he said.
Blackwell said numerous parties played key roles in getting the construction started.
“If it weren’t for the city of Waterloo, Deere and other major partners, things would have been tough,” he said.
Branstad, who already was in town to sign a bill expanding and modernizing career technical education at a ceremony at Hawkeye Community College, said TechWorks represented a step in that direction.
“It’s a great reuse of this old production facility for John Deere and really building for the future and making sure we’re preparing young people from this Cedar Valley area for the jobs that are coming and that are already here,” he said.
Branstad then went on to praise the project’s developers as exemplars.
“The campus and the Green@TechWorks are a great example for other communities to emulate,” he told the audience. “The progress you’ve made here is phenomenal. It took patience and perseverance to see it through.”
Tech 2, an 88-year old former John Deere tractor manufacturing building, is being transformed into The Green@TechWorks redevelopment project. The 180,000-square-foot, six-story building will house a 191-room Courtyard by Marriott hotel; a new restaurant operated by Consolidated Restaurant Operations, Inc.; John Deere Regional Training Center; and a conference center, which Courtyard will manage. The Green project is a principal feature of the overall TechWorks Campus riverfront re-development.
The Green@TechWorks is part of the larger 33-acre TechWorks Campus. In addition to the Tech 1 and Tech 2 buildings — which Deere & Co. donated to the project — the campus includes parcels suitable for light manufacturing and retail. TechWorks is “the first technology park of its kind in Iowa to combine world class business amenities within a Brownfield redevelopment site,” said Steve Dust, who directs the project, as well as the Alliance & Chamber.
The John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum opened about a year ago in the campus area, as has the Tech 1 Center for Applied Advanced Manufacturing, including the University of Northern Iowa’s Metal Casting and Additive (3D) Manufacturing Center and a Design Lab in partnership with Hawkeye Community College.
“That’s why it’s fitting that the Tractor & Engine Museum is also part of this TechWorks campus, Branstad said. “There’s also no better way to demonstrate how the past drives the future.”
A marina and a riverfront restaurant along the Cedar River also are part of the overall $74.1 million Campus development plan.
Some construction actually already has been started on Tech 2. Indeed, before the ceremony got underway, workers from Davenport-based E&H Restoration LLC were busy tuck pointing on a scaffold three stories up.
“We’ve been working on abatement for about a month, and tuck pointing started about two weeks ago,” said Greg Lundgren, president of Minneapolis-based Ryan Cos. U.S. Inc., the general contractor. “Nothing is accomplished without abatement – we thought the building was pretty clean when Rodney first signed his agreement but found out there is some asbestos and lead, and all that has to be removed before we can expose the other trades to doing work inside.”
Lundgren estimated 250-300 workers will be busy on the project until it is completed in Spring 2017.