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TechWorks site plan change gets initial OK

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WATERLOO, Iowa --- Plans for a major downtown manufacturing, research and tourism center breezed through the first zoning test this week.

There was no opposition during a public hearing Monday before City Council members voted 5-0 to approve the first reading of a site plan amendment for the Cedar Valley TechWorks campus, including the John Deere Tractor and Engine Museum.

"This basically covers the redevelopment and reuse of the existing buildings in the TechWorks campus," said City Planner Aric Schroeder.

The site plan covers two six-story buildings and a 27-acre parcel Deere & Co. donated for the project on the western edge of downtown between Westfield Avenue and an extended Commercial Street.

Plans call for the "Tech 2" building to be turned into a 100-room hotel, restaurant and "green" office space, while the "Tech 1" building would house the University of Northern Iowa's National Ag-Based Lubricants Center and other manufacturing tenants. The Deere museum, on the northeast end of the campus, is seeking a special permit and is expected to be open by the spring of 2013.

And the entire campus is expected to be fitted with wind towers and solar panels to attract "green-oriented" businesses.

Planning, Programming and Zoning commissioners endorsed the site plan last week. Schroeder said additional approvals, including platting out lots and special permits for the wind towers, are expected in the future.

"This is just one of the steps we have to go through," said Cary Darrah, TechWorks general manager. "But we feel like we've got a pretty solid package and we will be both disappointed and surprised if there's not some construction going on by this fall."

The site plan allows platting to split off some of the original 40 acres so it can be returned to Deere & Co., including parking for the museum and some property on the other side of Commercial Street from TechWorks.

Darrah said officials and investors are working on completing the funding package for the estimated $50 million project. The key is getting tenant commitments to secure the financing for construction.

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