TechWorks finally appears to be moving downtown forward

posted on Sunday, February 5, 2012 in Blog

Just what does $50 million buy these days?

We’re about to find out, as work on the long-talked-about TechWorks project appears finally ready to start this year.

TechWorks, in theory, always has been a great concept as a salve for downtown Waterloo, which, like other central urban business districts across the country, started a long downward slide when stores and other businesses moved out and buildings fell into disrepair. The farm crisis of the late 1980s certainly didn’t help.

Talk of downtown redevelopment is nothing new. What’s new is action, which appears to be starting.

Davenport-based developer Rodney Blackwell ventured into town with an eye on building new housing in downtown Waterloo and left with TechWorks on his mind.

“The bones of that building are incredible,” he said.

Whatever vision crept into Blackwell’s mind started to grow. Plans were drawn and revised. Consultants were brought in and high-level meetings held over the last couple of years.

And last week, that vision was unveiled to a roomful of civic and business leaders in the form of The Green @ TechWorks. When the project is completed sometime in the late summer or early fall of 2013, the campus will immediately have enough solar and wind power to provide as much as 60 percent of its energy needs. The “Tech 2” building will include “world-class” showroom and office space, as well as an upscale 100-room hotel/restaurant complex tailored to the needs of business and leisure travelers.

Next door will be a 24,000-square-foot John Deere Tractor and Engine Museum that planners say will attract tourists from all over the world. Deere also will have a thoroughly updated training facility on the premises. Planners say they are on the cusp of signing at least one new tenant for Tech 1.

And, that’s just part of a downtown renaissance planned for downtown. Blackwell says work will begin in the summer on revitalizing a downtown corridor dubbed “Main & Main,” along Commercial Street around the convention center.

Add to that, new housing along the riverfront, the riverfront plaza and amphitheater project and all of its amenities, rehab projects either on the drawing board, under way or already completed, plus the new SportsPlex, and it’s hard to doubt the rebirth of downtown Waterloo is finally taking shape with full force.

There have been hints that the promise of downtown was beginning to be realized, with ongoing individual projects too numerous to list here.

In other words, there already is visible evidence that the presence of TechWorks is setting off redevelopment in a long-moribund area of downtown.

Now, with Blackwell’s participation, a fuller-scale transformation of downtown is set to begin, as soon as next summer.

TechWorks is in the center of the action, but it is only the beginning.

That always has been the plan. Soon, we will be seeing concrete evidence of that long-held vision.
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