As with many redevelopment projects undertaken by the Rock Island Economic Growth Corp., the before-and-after photos of the Star Block on the city's 2nd Avenue tell a story.

The Star Block is an 1870s, three-story brick structure of five buildings under one roof that was declared a city landmark in 1991. By then, it was rundown, with many of its windows boarded up.

Today, the boards are gone, the outside has been painted a multicolor scheme, including terra cotta, cream and tan. Inside, construction workers are building eight new apartments, targeting veterans who should be ready to occupy the space by the end of July. The $2 million project at 1821-1823 2nd Ave. also will renovate 1,200 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor.

A $2.5 million second phase — work that will begin when financing is in place — will see the construction of 14 units targeted as artist live-work spaces in 1825-29 2nd Ave. Why artists? Because a market and feasibility study undertaken by the city and approved by the City Council in 2008 showed there was interest by artists for this kind of development.

The project was first launched in 2013 with a $10,000 donation from Modern Woodmen Bank, a longtime Growth partner. 

Built in 1874, the Star Block gets its name from the three-dimensional star in the roof peak, and it previously had the word "block" painted below.

Work on the Star Block is the latest in a long list of projects undertaken by Growth, a nonprofit developer that was formed in 1982 under the umbrella of Renaissance Rock Island.

Another project under way now is construction of seven single-family homes just a few blocks away, sandwiched between the Quad-City Botanical Center and the Jackson Square apartment complex — also a Growth project. 

The Garden District homes are expected to be finished in June, and their construction is another pioneering step for Growth, marking the first construction of new, single-family homes in any of the Quad-Cities' downtowns.

Renaissance president Brian Hollenback was inspired by a development called The Towns in Omaha, Neb.

The idea is that in addition to the typical downtown demographic — singles or couples — families, too, want to live downtown, and they would like the option of a traditional home.

On the horizon is another big project — construction of the Zimmerman Lofts. That work would turn a negative — the Zimmerman Honda auto dealership's move to Moline — into a positive.

Plans call for renovating the vacant building for commercial space, then constructing two additional stories above to create 45 apartment units. Growth has submitted a $12.1 million tax credit application for the project.

Also still to come are two commercial spaces in the ground floor of the Star Block. El Patron Mexican and Soi 2 Thai restaurants already have renovated and opened new spaces on the east side of the block, and Growth will renovate and lease the two on the west side.

Because Growth's reach now is regional, it also has projects pending in Clinton, Sterling, Ill., and elsewhere.

In May, it expects to break ground for a $5.5 million project in Sterling that will renovate the upper four floors of a downtown building into 20 affordable residential units.

"They (Growth) are all about 'What can we do to help a community to improve?'" Sterling Mayor Skip Lee said.

"If you get involved with them, you know you can depend on them to do more than their share of work," he said. "You can't beat their experience. They are phenomenal to work with.

"I can't imagine a better partner. I am amazed at the things we've been able to do, and I look forward to a long relationship. The caliber of people they use, their concern ... I can go on and on."

Looking to the future, Lee hopes Growth will be able to help with redevelopment on the city's riverfront. 

In Clinton, a $10.6 million project announced last year for the downtown Wilson Building has been delayed while funding is secured, but it's still expected to happen.

It would create 32 market-rate apartments. Four of six funding sources have been secured, but Growth still is waiting to hear on Iowa historic tax credits. If the news is positive, construction could begin in the fall and be finished the following year.

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