It was late at night, and we were in the car. I was tired; it had been a long day at the ballpark. My friend was driving. Which was good, because I could barely keep my eyes open. He was full of energy. I was not.
We kept going. Over the bridge. Down a dark road. Past some abandoned buildings. Into a dirt parking lot beside an unsightly, overgrown fenced-in lot. The building itself, enormous and dark; an old manufacturing plant long since shuttered. "Dude, you’re gonna love it,” my friend said, smiling impishly. "Wait’ll you see inside."
I was, well, skeptical. But I’d vowed to check it out, and here we were.
We walked inside. He turned on the lights, and I emerged from my reverie in … where was I? Brooklyn? San Francisco? It sure didn’t look like anything I’d ever seen in the Quad Cities. But there we were, in East Moline, in the middle of the coolest music venue I’d ever seen, the Rust Belt, with my pal, Sean Moeller.
Now Moeller knows music — and musicians. Lots of them. Starting with his days at the music recording company Daytrotter, where he brought more live acts to town than any three people combined ever had, to his more recent projects, Codfish Hollow and the Raccoon Motel, Moeller has paraded a myriad of artists, from the well-known to the unknown, through our community. At its peak, Daytrotter would host 15 artists a week, sometimes three in a day. But he’s never had a really big venue to work with … until now.
And this place is, well, cavernous. It can hold 5,000 people. Comfortably.
There’s a stage up front, with a backdrop of beautifully backlit library books. Over to the side, there’s a new bar Moeller and his partner, East Moline Glass President Larry Anderson, have built. The restrooms are immaculate, with hand-designed bathroom stalls. But what strikes you most is the authentic vibe.
These guys have built the kind of music venue other cities — bigger cities — can only dream of. I grew up in Baltimore and lived for more than a decade in Miami; neither has anything close to this.
I confessed, it was awesome; I loved the grit, the feeling you get in this place. "I know, man," Moeller said as he ambled over to the light board and started fidgeting with its switches. "You see it in people’s eyes. They walk in and they’re transformed. And when you collect a lot of those people in the same room at the same time, it’s crazy. I mean, where else would you want to be that night?"
This place is like no other music venue in Iowa, that’s for sure. But it’s also just the beginning. "Dude, you haven’t even seen the rest of the place," Moeller says.
Way more. This abandoned plant seemed to go on forever — and Moeller and Anderson have plans for all of it. They’re not just building one of the Midwest’s best music venues, they’re building a village. A restaurant. Coffee shop. Crossfit center. Brewery. Retail store. An architect’s studio. And much, much more.
When it’s all said and done, Moellerville, together with its neighbors, the new Hyatt Place and Hyatt House hotels at The Bend, will have transformed East Moline — and the Quad Cities — for the better. They’ll attract big-name musicians, become an entertainment destination, and a serve as a magnet for new development.
By the tour’s end, I was blown away. The size, scope, quality, the sheer magnitude of Moeller’s ridiculous, insane, audacious and totally beautiful vision left me wide awake — and giddy with excitement.
Sometimes, we in the Quad Cities talk things to death. How many different iterations of the Davenport Riverfront Plan have we all seen over the past four decades?
But, sometimes, we have a vision and we just make things happen. We aim high, and then surprise ourselves by exceeding our own expectations. The Rust Belt is one of those times.
This is why I love the Quad Cities.