Whether climbing up into the cab of a combine on display, snapping family photographs outdoors with the iconic deer statue or watching a movie about modern-day agriculture, each visitor to the John Deere Pavilion creates a connection with John Deere — the man, the company and the brand.
That was the vision Deere & Co. and its leadership had when the doors of the John Deere Pavilion and Store opened 10 years ago in downtown Moline, the hometown of the agricultural giant. Built to celebrate the past, present and future of Deere and agriculture, the pavilion and John Deere Commons has evolved into a showcase for the equipment maker as well a tourist destination and a community asset.
Since 1997, more than 2 million visitors — many repeats — have stopped in for an educational lesson on agribusiness or a leisurely afternoon of “driving” the green machines. Visitors have hailed from every state in the nation and countless countries around the globe. Now with an average of 200,000 visitors annually, the pavilion joined the i wireless Center — built a couple years before the pavilion — as an anchor for John Deere Commons.
Since its opening, the pavilion and store have helped Deere share its story with existing and potential customers, Deere employees and retirees, recruits and just plain visitors. The pavilion will mark its first decade with a public anniversary celebration Saturday.
Before the pavilion opened, Deere offered factory tours for dealers and customers and, on occasion, entertained visitors on its display floor at the World Headquarters on the opposite end of Moline.
“We wanted something that would enable us to reach a larger and broader number of visitors than visit us at the World Headquarters,” Higley recalled.
Built on Deere property that once housed the company’s Distribution Service Center, the pavilion as well as civic center originally known as The Mark of the Quad-Cities, sparked the development of the nearby John Deere Collectors Center, Centre Station, two hotels and other projects, including the latest — Bass Street Landing.
“Our facilities have set a standard for companies and communities as a successful way of creating a travel destination that offers a meaningful and memorable experience for visitors from around the world,” said LuAnn Haydon, the manager of the John Deere Pavilion and foundation facilities. “Reaching this milestone is a great pleasure for everyone involved with the John Deere Pavilion and Store over the years.”
Part of the area’s appeal, she said is the variety and quality of retail now offered along the Moline riverfront. “We are serving as the catalyst for new retail, hotel and restaurant development, and exceeding expectations in terms of visitor traffic and store sales,” she added.
Economic development leaders such as Jim Bowman, the executive director of Renew Moline, credit the leadership and vision of Deere and the city of Moline more than a decade ago for creating what has become a model for private-public partnerships.
“It’s a community asset, it created a market where a market didn’t exist,” he said. A Moline native, he added that in the early 1990s “we didn’t have visitors to downtown Moline. We do now because of this facility and The Mark of the Quad-Cities and the revival of downtown.”
Bowman, who previously served as Moline’s economic development director, said the success of the development in leveraging $250 million in new projects is turning heads in other communities, all hoping to replicate it. “We’ve had over 30 communities come and study us. Literally, we have a model that communities our size — 50,000 population — can’t seem to achieve. They’re amazed it was pulled off.”
Other corporations also have taken note of Deere and Moline’s success, Higley said. Representatives of companies such as Harley Davidson, Coca-Cola, Lockheed Martin and even Deere competitor Caterpillar have visited the collection of Deere facilities, including the pavilion, store and the Collectors Center, to learn about the venture.
From a tourism perspective, the John Deere Pavilion not only has established itself as one of the area’s largest attractions but it also has helped put the Quad-Cities on the map, said Joe Taylor, the president and chief executive officer of the Quad-Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“For fans of John Deere certainly, it’s almost a pilgrimage,” he said. “It’s very unusual not to see a motorcoach at the John Deere Pavilion. And it’s unusual not to see kids and families standing in front of the equipment having their picture taken.”
Deere’s entrance into a new arena — tourism — has been a boost to the bureau’s marketing efforts. The organization regularly partners with Deere to purchase national advertising and attend travel trade shows to promote the Quad-Cities. “I wouldn’t say we wouldn’t have been in those publications (without Deere), but it certainly stretches our ad dollars so we are able to be in more publications,” Taylor said.
The pavilion and Deere also have partnered in hosting events in the Commons, including an annual antique tractor auction, the Illinois Great River Bicycle Ride, the Lighting of the Commons and the first-ever John Deere Basket Fest with the Longaberger Co.
“They’ve stepped up and said ‘it’s not just about us and the pavilion, it’s about showcasing the community,’ ” Taylor added.
The success of Basket Fest, which drew 30,000 visitors over a 10-day period last year, surpassed the expectations of the pavilion and the basket maker, Higley said. “That was the first time we joined with another major brand to do a major event, and what we found was there was quite a bit of commonality there,” he said, adding that Deere attractions are always looking for opportunities to share the brand with a wider audience.
Plans are in the works to repeat the basket event in 2008 and Longaberger since has added two John Deere-themed baskets to its collection.
That first-time event also is one of the ways that the pavilion works to keep its product — its events and exhibits — new and fresh for visitors, Higley said. Regularly changing exhibits and keeping up-to-date with technology also are key to attracting new visitors and returnees. The pavilion, as well as other Deere attractions, including the Deere Historic Site in Grand Detour, Ill. — also moved into the rental facility in 2006.
“Part of the thinking we need to do is to make sure we’re offering the best experience we can,” Higley said.
He said it is not uncommon for visitors to spend their vacations with Deere’s attractions and celebrate family occasions. In June, the first-ever wedding was held at the pavilion. Regularly, the pavilion receives letters and photos from visitors who want to share their Deere connection.
“We’re privileged to have that loyalty to our brand,” Higley said. “For us it is very special. To think of all the places in the world, these people chose to come to Moline, Illinois. We are doing something very right here.”
John Deere Pavilion
Where: 1400 River Drive, Moline
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday; noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.
The STS Bullet Rotor exhibit which provides a 360-degree view of the inside workings of a Deere combine.
A fully interactive exhibit called On The Horizon, which offers a glimpse into a more secure and environmentally-aware energy future. It presents an overview of current challenges and opportunities in biofuels and wind energy – industries that Deere customers play a key role in.
An interactive exhibit called You Are Here: GPS in the Field. The hands-on computer experience allows visitors to try their turn at precision farming from behind the wheel while learning how GPS has transformed the industry.
April 1996: Ground is broken for the new John Deere Pavilion, a key element in downtown Moline’s redevelopment, John Deere Commons. The pavilion and store are built on the site of Deere & Co.’s former Distribution Service Center.
Aug. 16, 1997: Grand opening of the pavilion and accompanying store brings 50,000 guests in the first week. The facility is part of the $156 million John Deere Commons, which includes Moline’s new civic center, then called The Mark of the Quad-Cities.
November 1997: The pavilion plays host to the first Lighting on the Commons. The event has grown into an annual celebration in conjunction with Quad-City Arts Festival of Trees.
May 2001: Lycos Travel names the pavilion one of the 10 “Most Intriguing Off-The-Beaten-Path Attractions” in America in its new Road Trip Guide.
February 2002: Pavilion welcomes its 1-millionth guest.
July 2003: Travelocity, a leading Internet travel service, recognizes John Deere Commons as one of 10 Illinois’ “Local Secrets, Big Finds.”
Feb. 7, 2004: Pavilion and store host the 200th birthday of company founder John Deere.
June 2005: The facility introduces a new film, “Anthem,” which offers visitors a global perspective of the role of the farmer, agriculture and Deere in the world’s food production. The film still is shown each day.
May 2007: The 2-millionth guest arrives at the pavilion.
June 2007: The pavilion hosts its first wedding ceremony.
Aug. 18, 2007: 10th anniversary celebration.
Known as the John Deere Forum, the exhibition pavilion had a soft opening July 9. The new 17,000-square-foot pavilion is located near Deere’s European offices. An official inauguration ceremony is planned for Oct. 26 in conjunction with the opening of the neighboring office building.
Deere first opened a European office in Heidelberg, Germany, in 1964. It moved the headquarters to Mannheim in 1973.
Designed, like the John Deere Pavilion, to promote visitor services programs, the Mannheim forum accommodates an outdoor combine machine display and a 1,000-square-foot indoor display area. The exhibit floor includes Lanz and John Deere vintage machines as well as new John Deere agricultural, consumer (lawn care) and construction equipment.
In addition, the new facility includes flexible presentation rooms that can host up to 50 people each and two other rooms for housing smaller groups for workshops and conferences.
“We are confident that the new John Deere Forum will serve as a well-accepted Europe-wide meeting point in Mannheim for domestic and foreign visitors,” Ralf Lenge, the facility’s manager, said when it opened last month.
The forum’s first official event was a “Jugend denkt Zukunft” (Youngsters develop our Future) workshop with 20 students from Mannheim Technical High School Carl Benz that took place July 9. The students are developing plans for the environmentally friendly tractor factory of 2020.