When the City of Moline requested developers in 1999 for its mixed-used riverfront project known as Bass Street Landing, it didn't get any responses that met its requirements - primarily that applicants have experience developing and operating a similar project. The city then put out a second request, with the same result.

It's not that there wasn't interest from developers, said Nancy Mulcahey, Moline's director of economic development. None of the companies that came forward had undertaken a project with the scale or scope of the $37 million Bass Street Landing development - which includes retail and office space, public and recreation areas, a parking garage, and three different types of housing. "It's a pretty ambitious project," she said.

In the end, the city went with two companies that had shown interest in the Bass Street project and had already spent significant money on Moline's riverfront: Kaizen Company of America had recently rehabilitated and re-developed the Caxton building right next to Bass Street Landing, and Ryan Companies had built the John Deere Commons area.

The two "had a track record and knew the area," Mulcahey said.

Kent Pilcher, a partner in Kaizen, said it wasn't surprising that only developers with an existing stake in the area came forward for Bass Street Landing. "We have our interests to protect," he said. And Pilcher has long argued that real-estate developers would still prefer the easy bucks of suburban projects to the challenges and risks of central-city ones.

It's instructive that as much progress as Moline's riverfront area has made over the past decade - from The Mark to the soon-to-open John Deere Collector's Center - the downtown still hasn't generated much development without government assistance. (Kaizen's Caxton building stands out as one exception, even though it did use Tax Increment Financing.)

Rick Anderson, executive vice president of Renew Moline, said the process of re-developing Moline's downtown has been one in which the city has built around its major attractions. The Mark and the Heritage office building "were good starts, but they couldn't exist all by themselves," he said. "They were surrounded by thorns, and we had to grow roses."

Bass Street Landing won't be any different in terms of needing help. The development, basically covering the area between the Arsenal bridge and Interstate 74 from River Drive to the riverfront, will include a three-story building with retail on the first floor, office on the second, and apartments on the third; one office building; 10 row houses; a condominium complex; a parking garage; a public plaza/ice rink; a bike trail; and a green area. And the city of Moline will be chipping in a big chunk of the cost.

Consultant Brian Vandewalle, who has been working for years with Moline to implement its downtown vision, frequently invokes the concept of the "economic critical mass": the expectation that eventually Moline's downtown will have enough momentum that it can grow and draw private investment without city help.

Those involved with Bass Street Landing say the project could represent major progress toward that goal. "It makes a significant leap," Pilcher said. Because of its residential component, many think the development could spur economic activity in a way that event- and visitor-centered attractions cannot.

Yet several participants in the project get nervous about pronouncing the job nearly done in Moline. And some people suggest it's an unrealistic goal at all.

When asked whether Bass Street Landing could be the final push downtown needs before its training wheels come off, Anderson was hesitant, noting that there's always something more that can be done. "I don't know," he said. "Will there ever be a time when they say, 'We've done enough in Moline'? Perhaps."

Moline Mayor Stan Leach is more blunt. To borrow Anderson's metaphor, if downtown Moline is a rose garden, it will always need to be tended carefully, according to Leach.

Leach said he expects the Bass Street Landing project to spark development to the east, while the new Red Cross building does the same thing to the west. Yet he said downtown Moline hasn't reached a point of self-sufficiency, and it might not ever. "I can't see any time in the immediate future" that developers will undertake major projects in downtown without incentives. "It takes the involvement of the city as well."

Footing the Bill

It's expected that government money will pay for more than a quarter of Bass Street Landing's $37 million price tag.

The city is still negotiating with Kaizen and Ryan on the final details of development agreements, but the basic breakdown of costs has been determined: $25 million from Ryan and Kaizen (roughly split down the middle, according to Pilcher), $10.5 million from government sources, and $1.5 million from the community for things such as the winter ice rink and public art.

It's not known yet exactly where the government money will come from, but a big piece will likely be Tax Increment Financing, and the city hopes the rest will come from federal and state grants and loans.

"We won't do that [pursue funding from other sources] until we're more settled on what the costs are," Mulcahey said.

Government money will be used for a handful of public improvements, including the construction of a parking deck and a bike trail; re-location of utilities and the Arsenal Bridge ramp; brownfield remediation (already underway with a state grant); streetscaping; and development of public and park space.

City officials and the developers expect final agreements to be completed in July. Public hearings had been scheduled for this month but will be delayed because development pacts aren't finished. The project enjoys wide support on the city council, and that body will be signing off on the project next month, most likely. "They're not voting just on the development agreements or assistance," Mulcahey said. "They're approving the whole development."

Groundbreaking could happen as soon as August or September for Kaizen's retail/office/apartment building, with a targeted opening in summer 2002. Construction on the condominiums and a parking ramp will likely start in spring 2002, with an opening of summer 2003.

In some major upcoming Quad Cities development projects, public and private funds would mingle. For instance, if Davenport's application to the Vision Iowa program is approved, state money will support projects undertaken by a private developer: Kaizen's Redstone Building renovation and the development of an AgTech Venture Capital Center. (Pilcher and Kaizen partner Chuck Ruhl both chair divisions of DavenportOne, which is a major player in the Vision Iowa application with the City of Davenport.)

That kind of mingling won't happen in Bass Street Landing. All public money will be used for public improvements. "There's a very clear segregation between [different] funding and [different] uses," Pilcher said.

That's not to say that the developers aren't getting incentives.

For one thing, the city is paying for utility re-location, landscaping, and public-space improvements, and that's not standard procedure. Normally, the assignment of costs on things such as moving utility lines is determined on a "case-by-case basis," Mulcahey said.

Leases between the city and the developers will also be structured to the developers' benefit. While Kaizen owns the property on the east side of Bass Street Landing (where it plans to develop more office space and the row houses), the city owns the western portion, including the property on which Ryan's condominiums and Kaizen's retail/office/residential building will be constructed.

Although the contracts have not been finished, Mulcahey and Pilcher confirmed that there have been discussions about long-term leases at discounted rates. "That's just one possibility," Mulcahey said. Other incentives traditionally used in the Quad Cities are symbolic (such as a dollar) or reduced sale prices for land and tax credits.

And there's still the question from where the $10.5 million in government money will come. City staff and the not-for-profit group Renew Moline search out possible government funding sources for downtown projects such as Bass Street Landing.

Renew Moline does some of the work instead of the city because its focus is downtown, Anderson said. "The city has projects they're working on throughout the city," he said. "We're kind of supplementing the city staff."

Until development agreements are completed, Leach said, he was unwilling to talk about the level of city involvement in the project. "Those are numbers being thrown around," he said. He declined to say at what level of city financing he would be uncomfortable with the project.

It's clear, though, that the city wants to stick to using Tax Increment Financing and avoid money from the city's general fund.

The city's downtown Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district was set to expire in 2009, but the city has extended it through 2021. That means the taxes from increased property value will be used to pay back bonds issued for Bass Street Landing over the next 20 years.

Mulcahey said that public money has been essential to the success of Moline's downtown. City involvement "made that project work," she said of the John Deere Commons. "Public improvements really do set the tone for the rest of the development."

Urban Dwellers

The hook of the Bass Street Landing project is to create new residential centers in the downtown area.

The hope is that younger workers and older residents will move downtown instead of to the city edge or suburbs, and that their presence will spur development of businesses that have long since vanished from downtowns - everything from dry cleaners to grocery stores to video-rental businesses. "People need their amenities," Anderson said.

The idea of "urban living" is popular in many big cities, and it's even trickled into the Quad Cities, with planned loft apartments in the Murphy House, Goldman, and Renaissance buildings in Rock Island, as well re-development of the LeClaire Hotel in Moline. Even so, "it's kind of a new concept for the Quad Cities," Anderson said.

This will be the second such project for Moline. The rehabilitated LeClaire Hotel offers 82 "affordable" apartments (subsidized by tax credits) and 28 full-market-price apartments, thus drawing a variety of income levels.

Bass Street Landing will also be mixed income - although much more upscale. Ryan Companies is developing condominiums along the riverfront, probably with a price tag of between $250,000 and $300,000 apiece. Row houses are tentatively planned for the eastern edge of the development and will probably sell for between $150,000 and $200,000. And the Kaizen retail and office building on River Drive will offer apartments on its third floor.

Leach said Bass Street Landing will result in more commercial services for downtown residents. While the city does have the LeClaire Hotel, that "doesn't represent enough of a demand," he said.

Bass Street Landing will add approximately 70 housing units - 48 condos, 10 row houses, and 10 or 11 apartments. That should create momentum, Leach said. "If the demand's there, you're going to get a supply," he said.

Scott Harrington, Moline's director of planning and development, said it's difficult to tell what level of housing will draw personal-service businesses to downtown. "Those other services will eventually locate there" with the residential development, he said, "but what those magic numbers [of residents] are is a guess."

The confidence that businesses such as dry cleaners and boutique food stores will be drawn by larger numbers of urban dwellers suggests Moline is well on its way toward self-sufficiency, even though Leach thinks otherwise. If market forces such as supply and demand are at work, then the city should be able to eliminate - or at least reduce - its financial role, and simply work to direct and manage the growth and re-development.

The city is obviously not ready to let go, though, and there's something tentative about the way everybody is moving.

Kaizen, for example, has a letter of intent from one "significant anchor" for its Bass Street Landing retail project, Pilcher said. (He would not name the company.) But a downturn in the retail economy - something that would make it more difficult for Kaizen to pre-lease its retail space and therefore reduce its risk - could delay Bass Street Landing. The company's development agreement with the city will determine Kaizen's options to delay or change its role in the Bass Street Landing project.

"If the economy stays the way it is, we'll proceed," Pilcher said. If it falters, though, "it will take longer to bring to fruition."

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