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Can a Mural Inspire Economic Development ?

Renew Moline
the Spiegel Building with its new mural by Brandon Nees

Local leaders are excited about a new mural on the sides of a dilapidated, empty building in downtown Moline, imagining the potential for future growth in the area.

Credit Renew Moline
Brandon Nees in front of the Spiegel Building

Last week, Renew Moline, Quad City Arts, and Mayor Stephanie Acri celebrated the unveiling of the work by 25-year-old Davenport artist Brandon Nees, who graduated from Moline High School. He painted the word “possibility” in big turquoise block letters across seven plywood panels. They’re among nine colorful, large pieces he created for a $10,000 public mural on the boarded-up ground floor of the city-owned Spiegel building off River Drive at 20th Street.

Through a competitive process led by the city and Renew Moline, Nees’s proposal was chosen from among 28 submissions. The purpose of the mural project is to beautify and draw attention to the building, at the center of the redevelopment area created by the $1.2 billion I-74 bridge project.

It’s one of the few remaining factory buildings in downtown Moline from the industrial era – built between 1928 and 1930, according to Renew Moline, a nonprofit organization and public-private partnership. Renew CEO Alexandra Elias says there are several redevelopment proposals for the site, in a variety of uses, including residential and commercial.

Credit Renew Moline
Renew Moline CEO Alexandra Elias

“The Spiegel building is part of a much larger redevelopment area of great interest to us, to the city and really is kind of indicative of the future of Moline. This building – the Spiegel building – just happens to be the first thing you see when you get off the bridge right now.”

“Going forward, this building is a very prominent piece of historic architecture in an area that just doesn’t have a lot. So we’re considering it just the centerpiece, and we thought it was appropriate to indicate the future possibility of the area by putting something beautiful and neat and optimistic on the River Drive side, just to intrigue people, and invite them to consider what the possibilities of the future are – for both the Spiegel building and for the entire area.”

She says the great location, next to the new bridge, and unique character of the building are main draws for developers.

“This is one of the few buildings we have remaining in downtown Moline that really looks like you think of a historic warehouse, an old loft – a lot of the Chicago style buildings that get repurposed into very cool places.” 

Renew hopes to get more people living and working downtown through redevelopment like the four-story Spiegel building.

“I think the I-74 area has all those features in it. There’s room for office growth; room for residential growth. There’s room for new connections between the university that’s here, as well as the rest of downtown.”

Elias says Brandon Nees’ submission was exactly what they wanted. The call for entries asked for artists’ concepts as well as use of the word “possibility” in the art.

“Brandon really submitted a compelling concept and the features of it really encompass a lot of different ideas. They have the building block look, indicating the redevelopment potential of the site, and there are some tribal-looking men at the ends, which indicate more of a kind of human side of things, as well as historic side of things. He designed a headdress to be floral and very vibrant, indicating future growth. So we loved the thoughtfulness he put into the proposal.”

“He’s just been phenomenal to work with, very professional. He’s young, but he’s very passionate and very committed to his craft, and he really works hard on it. I think that it’s very clear when you drive by and see how well it’s executed. It really is a nice job, so we were totally thrilled with Brandon and are just so happy for his success.”

Public Art Steering Committee members were excited by the “street art” style of Nees’ plan.  

The city of Moline is working with Urban Land Institute, to make recommendations for the building on how much of it should be residential versus retail and commercial. Renew Moline is doing virtual public-art tours of downtown, led by its consulting firm, Designing Local. The team will lead viewers virtually through a two-hour tour of seven downtown sites to review conditions and dream big about how public art could benefit each space. The last one is planned for Wednesday at 10 a.m., on Zoom. You can register at Eventbrite.com.

The Spiegel project is part a comprehensive downtown public-art master plan that Renew Moline has proposed. It's working with Designing Local, based in Columbus, Ohio, which has done similar master plans for cities nationwide, including Atlanta. Renew hopes six months from now to have a draft plan. For more information, visit renewmoline.com.

A native of Detroit, Herb Trix began his radio career as a country-western disc jockey in Roswell, New Mexico (“KRSY, your superkicker in the Pecos Valley”), in 1978. After a stint at an oldies station in Topeka, Kansas (imagine getting paid to play “Louie Louie” and “Great Balls of Fire”), he wormed his way into news, first in Topeka, and then in Freeport Illinois.