MUSCATINE — About all that is left to do to make the $42 million Merrill Hotel and Conference Center a physical reality is to start putting shovels to dirt.
Developers for the project had an official unveiling for the Merrill on Wednesday at the Pearlview Condominiums, formerly the Hotel Muscatine. With initial planning complete, the Merrill Hotel and Conference Center Development Group shared its vision of a project that it believes will have a game-changing effect on the economic life of Muscatine.
"When we started this project, it was really a community project," said Rebecca Howe, president of Riverview Hotel Development, which is involved with the Merrill project. "We've had 100 percent community support, and without that support, this project wouldn't be possible."
The project is named for Stanley Merrill Howe, a Muscatine native and one-time president, chairman and chief executive officer of what is now HNI Corp. He is Howe's father-in-law.
"(The project) not only made sense — it made a lot of sense," said Andrew MacLellan, founder of Scottford Enterprises, part of the design team for the project. "We've had two economic impacts studies done. (They) point to this being not only a great thing for the city, but it’s also a financially viable and sustainable business."
The Merrill will be adjacent to the Pearlview Condominiums in the 100 block of West Mississippi Drive. Two years of planning have gone into the Merrill project. Among its features includes:
• A six-story hotel with 114 guest rooms, extended-stay rooms, and presidential suites with three bedrooms;
• An access-controlled parking garage next to the hotel, with 189 parking spaces;
• 12,732 square feet of conference space, located within the hotel, that could accommodate up to 377 people;
• A 4,353 square-foot ballroom, including a 1,250 square-foot terrace;
• An indoor pool, full-service spa and fitness center available to non-guests who purchase club memberships;
• A green space area and landscaping between the Merrill and the Pearlview;
• A heated and covered walkway system that will connect the Merrill and the Pearlview, which will allow hotel guests easy access to the two restaurants and bar located in the Pearlview.
"It's a four-star, four-diamond, in terms of quality level," said MacLellan, who serves as chief operating officer of the development group.
MacLellan sees the Merrill as complementing and integrating with other existing redevelopment projects in the area, such as the reconstruction of the Mississippi Drive corridor, the proposed raising of railroad tracks on the riverfront, continued improvements to Riverside Park and other sections of the riverfront, and the expansion of the city's trail system. He said that developers are consulting with city officials to ensure the Merrill will be in the 500-year floodplain, noting that the city is looking to raise the level of Mississippi Drive as part of its redevelopment plans for the road.
"The economic impact of this has turned out to be quite astounding," Howe said, noting that initial estimates indicate that construction of the project will have an $81 million impact on the state of Iowa and create 550 jobs, with $19 million of that amount and 100 of those jobs located in Muscatine County. When operational, the hotel is expected to employ 70 people.
Of the project's $42 million price tag, $20 million has been provided by a group of four private investors. Three are based in Muscatine: Howe Investment Fund, of whom Howe and her husband, James, are members; the MHI Fund; and Kent Corp. The fourth, Friendship Windows, is owned by Chinese real estate developers Glad Chen and Daniel Wang, who became interested in Muscatine because of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s history with the city. The remainder of the funds from the project will come from a mix of loans from private, local banks, as well as financial assistance from local and state governments.
Construction on the Merrill is expected to begin at the end of this summer, and the developers anticipate it being completed by 2017.