Three Corners Development is looking to make the grade with a new Moline housing project that will offer a unique option for college students, particularly those at the adjacent Western Illinois University Quad-Cities Campus.

After a bitter winter that tested the construction schedule, the project — known as The Mills at Riverbend Commons — is beginning to take shape along the Mississippi River. The $22 million project is the first phase of a multi-phase development by Three Corners Development that is expected to bring $80 million of new investment to the 15-acre site.

Madison Construction, a sister company of Three Corners, pushed construction through the sub-zero temperatures and snowy conditions to get the project back on schedule.

"We've only had 45 working days we've been able to be on the site," Ed Engel, site superintendent, said during a site tour last week. "We've had to turn it up, we're working overtime ... and everybody is here working as a team." 

Engel said that during the worst of the winter, crews used a ground thaw technology to allow for foundation work to proceed in the frozen ground. In addition, he said "The first floor is pre-cast concrete panels that were cast in a controlled environment off-site. It comes together like a puzzle piece."

With the weather finally cooperating, he said all the trades are working on top of each other to complete the four-story building for occupancy in August. The top floors — which will contain 90 units — are going together with pre-manufactured wood panels.

Yanet Garcia, Three Corners' design and construction vice president, described it as "a very fun and quite exciting project." Led by Madison Construction, she said "the majority of the sub contractors are local to the Quad-Cities. That is really important to us."

The Mills will house 240 students in fully furnished rooms available in studio, two-bedroom and four-bedroom units, Garcia said. Rents will range from $550 to $700. Shared amenities will include commons areas on each floor, a fitness center, a community room and outdoor courtyard with recreational activities. It will be surrounded by the three-wing building.

"This is going to be for any area college student," she said. "We don't have a direct commitment for WIU students, but obviously they're just next door to us." However, the project already is attracting interest from students at Augustana, Black Hawk and Trinity College of Nursing. 

The building will include 20,000 square feet of retail/commercial space that will have tenants who cater to both students and the general public, such as a bar/restaurant, bank or other retailers, Garcia said. 

Mark Marshall, Three Corners' vice president of development, said The Mills will not be the first student housing project built by the Orland Park, Ill., developer "but it will be the first one we'll be in the ownership position."

The Mills also partners Three Corners with Best Management on Campus, a student housing property manager. The first lease was expected to be signed last week, Garcia said.

According to Marshall, the project is unique to the Quad-Cities in that it is a private developer building housing for student purposes and not a university-owned project. "We're looking at this being one of our staple models," he added.

Other partners include the architect Holabird & Root, which also has designed the Western Illinois campus project. Quad-City real estate agent Jeff Miller is seeking commercial tenants for The Mills.

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For the city of Moline and Renew Moline, the project helps complete economic development leaders' vision for a development that serves both Western Illinois and the growing downtown residential population  in Moline Centre. 

Janet Mathis, Renew Moline's executive director, recalled the many concepts that supporters of the new university had over the years — from a transportation facility to a business park, a technology park and even a possible home for Kone.

"At the time, this was just a junior and senior campus ... it was more for students who were going back to school after getting their jobs," she said. But with the new campus' opening, Western Illinois opened admission to freshman and sophomores — opening up the need for nearby housing. "This transition makes it more of a four-year public university."

After city and Renew leaders visited other Illinois universities in 2012 to view the private developments, she said "We knew we wanted to create a high-density neighborhood that had housing and retail base because of its close proximity to the university and the downtown neighborhood."

In fact, she said Three Corners' next phase will bring market-rate housing to the most western end of the riverfront property with other retail, hopefully including a grocery and a town center between the two housing projects.

"If someone wanted to come here to go to Western, or any other college, they could live next to campus and then transition as a young adult to the other end of the property,'' she said.