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Renew key to Moline development

MOLINE -- When visitors to John Deere Commons walk from the Deere pavilion to Finney's for a bite or brew, they pass the office of an organization that helped make both places possible.

Renew Moline is a private, nonprofit group that has quietly and persistently championed and influenced the revitalization of River Drive in the area around The Mark of the Quad Cities, as well as other key spots downtown. Its president is Tom Robinson, president of Bank One Quad Cities.

``I think that Renew has not tried to be constantly in front of the public with what it's doing,'' Mr. Robinson said. ``As a result, people may know of the organization, particularly with the success of John Deere Commons, and characterize it more as a silent partner working with the city and with other parties to grow and develop the city of Moline.''

The 20-member board of directors represents a variety of business interests in the community, primarily, but not exclusively, from Moline, he said. There is also a labor representative on the board.

``It's a broad group and we certainly need that representation,'' Mr. Robinson said. ``As you look at certain projects, developments, you want that type of input from board members -- their suggestions, criticisms, whatever it might be.''

Renew was formed nearly 10 years ago and receives $1,000 a year in dues from members, while Deere & Co. pays the salary of its executive director, Jay Preszler, who came to Renew after serving as Deere's manager of real estate services. The only other paid staff member is an assistant to Mr. Preszler.

Mr. Robinson joined the board in 1992 when his Bank One predecessor retired. He became head of the board in 1993, the year The Mark opened.

After helping assemble redevelopment of the 5th Avenue site where the Heritage Place office building stands, Renew focused on helping The Mark ``reach its full potential,'' Mr. Robinson said.

``There are various developments that have occurred surrounding that, related businesses in the area that have been able to benefit from what's occurring,'' he said. ``Renew coordinates that development. You need a facilitator to keep things moving along.

``John Deere Commons is an excellent example of the public and private sectors coming together to get something accomplished of a very major nature,'' Mr. Robinson said. ``It's pretty rare when you can see a project that entails an investment of some $50 million come together at the same time.

``Normally, it's bits and pieces over time. It was really just a remarkable thing,'' he said, noting it's by far the most complex project Renew has been involved in.

For the first and only time in its existence, Renew raised money -- $750,000 -- for part of the project, namely, landscaping for the lawn between The Mark and Radisson hotel.

``I feel very satisfied when I look at what has occurred in the John Deere Commons area,'' Mr. Robinson said. ``You visualize what the area looked like when we first looked at doing something in late 1993 and 1994. All of a sudden, it came together.

``It's attracting people in the community and you see cars from out of state. You walk through the John Deere Pavilion, see the visitors there,'' he said. ``That makes you feel very good.

``It's obviously a challenge when you have a very small staff of two people and a volunteer board of directors that has other commitments in their days,'' Mr. Robinson said. ``You do have limitations because of staffing, resources you can put into something. You're trying to determine what you can get done, what can have the most impact and what can develop the best things for the community.''

Though it's unusual for Renew to own or develop property, it now owns two buildings at the southeast corner of 15th Street and River Drive, next to Renew's office, which it leases from Freed Heating & Air Conditioning.

``There can be situations where it may make sense for us to own a piece of property. However, it's not our goal to be a long-term owner of property, unless there's some strategic reason, like for our own office,'' Mr. Robinson said.

``I hope there would be some way we can facilitate that and turn the piece of property into a development that would fit into the area,'' he said of the buildings across from the pavilion. Renew is examining costs related to improving the buildings and making them more attractive to potential buyers, Mr. Robinson said.

Renew is not limited to improving downtown, however. It has helped the 23rd Avenue volunteer group and is looking at developments from the former Trinity Medical Center site to the Quad City International Airport, the board president said.

``We want to keep our minds open to other areas we might get involved in,'' Mr. Robinson said, noting a current focus on the Bass Street Landing site off 17th Street and River Drive.

Mr. Robinson also is chairman of the Quad City Development Group and serves on the boards of United Way, Arrowhead Ranch and Junior Achievement.

``I think it's important to pay back to your community for what it gives to you,'' he said. ``We've got a tremendous area here in the Quad-Cities. There are so many good things that are occurring here, they get lost among some of the bad things happening in the area.

``Communities need people who volunteer,'' Mr. Robinson said. ``There are great people in the Quad-Cities who volunteer to make great things happen.''

-- By Jonathan Turner (February 2, 1998)

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