It is difficult to talk about the 20th anniversary of the John Deere Pavilion without talking about the resurgence and development of downtown Moline.
Those are the thoughts of some who had a hand in developing the destination spot that features John Deere equipment, and has become a popular tourism spot for the entire Quad-Cities.
“We love being a place where guests come to learn how we are all linked to the land, how food gets to our tables, how roads are built and forests are managed,” said Brigitte Tapscott, manager of John Deere Attractions.
“For two decades, we’ve had the great honor of welcoming visitors of all ages to the Quad-Cities and we look forward to doing more of the same for years to come.”
Located along the shores of the Mississippi River near the company's original Moline plow factory, the facility has attracted almost 3.8 million guests from around the world since it opened in 1997, averaging between 200,000 to 215,000 visitors a year, she said.
The 14,000-square-foot, glass- and steel-enclosed structure features a variety of fun and informative hands-on exhibits about Deere & Co.'s global businesses and products, its history and heritage, and its work to meet the challenges of a growing global population.
The facility spurred growth of new commercial, retail and residential development in the entire downtown area, said Bill Ratzburg, economic development global director for Deere, and a board member of Renew Moline.
Renew Moline is a nonprofit economic development organization devoted to working with the city of Moline on riverfront and other development.
“I think the pavilion has been very significant,” he said. “Primarily the iWireless Center instantly became a destination, but we needed something else. And John Deere Pavilion has become a destination center from all over the world.
“And it really has had an impact on Moline as a whole. It has been an anchor property."
Dan McConaghy, retired global director facility engineer for Deere, worked on the design of the pavilion and other designs downtown. He also is a 1969 graduate of Moline High School.
“This is my favorite all-time project I worked on,” he said.
He credits the entire concept of John Deere Commons, an area from 13th to 15th streets on River Drive, to the late Hans Becherer, then-chairman of Deere & Co.
“Deere gave the land for The Mark which was the start of the downtown development,” he said. The Mark of the Quad-Cities was the name of the civic center before it became known as the iWireless Center.
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“Hans Becherer sponsored The Mark development. Hans Becherer was the driver behind all that and all the things that resulted because of that. This area of Moline was underutilized and had no vision. The whole idea was to create a private-public enterprise.”
McConaghy, who remains on the Moline Plan Commission, said a historic warehouse was torn down where the pavilion is located. There was talk of tearing down another building to the west that now houses Johnny's Italian Steakhouse restaurant, along with other businesses. But it was decided to keep the historic preservation there and renovate instead.
The impact of that planning and the pavilion is evident beyond just the number of visitors there.
“The John Deere Pavilion has played a significant role in advancing tourism these last 20 years," said Joe Taylor, president and CEO of the Quad-Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“There have been millions of visitors and the venue has solidly anchored downtown Moline as a destination point. With the Farm Progress Show now alternating between Boone, Iowa, and Decatur, Illinois, the pavilion is in a perfect location for agri-tourism visits.”
“It has grown in the number in attendance and we try each year to add more bigger and interactive things,” Tapscott said.
She said there have been some renovations over the years. In 2012, there was a complete renovation of the building with new exhibits added. In 2015, a new exhibit for children was added called John Deere Discovery Zone.
She said the pavilion partners with the visitors bureau on tours — many tourists are current Deere employees or retirees, or farmers who tend to have a deep-felt attraction to the facility.
“I like them to leave and have an emotional connection with our brand,” she said. “It is making the Quad-Cities a destination. Downtown Moline has had great growth over the last 20 years. It is a great place to bring families.”
She said it is great to meet all visitors, but especially those who come from other countries. She said there was one family from South Africa, for example, who made Moline their vacation spot because the son wanted to visit the home of John Deere.
The man who perhaps feels the closest to the pavilion may be Paul Knedler, a retired manager of guest services for Deere who helped shape the origins of the facility and then spent several years overseeing it.
“You can almost say I gave birth to it,” he said. “I am absolutely proud of it. It is all about education and agriculture. It is a good, education place to visit.
“When people come from all over the world, they love to see the Mississippi River when they get here. That pavilion has just been great. It has brought in hundreds of thousands of visitors. It has been great for the cities.”