Much like countless people who remodeled after spending too much pandemic time inside their homes, the John Deere Pavilion took advantage of a forced shutdown to reimagine and reinvent itself.
Opened in 1997, the downtown Moline attraction still was a popular stop for Quad Citians and visitors alike when COVID-19 closed its doors in March 2020. But when it reopened two months ago, visitors were greeted by a host of new interactive and immersive exhibits that better tell today’s John Deere story.
During what became a 600-day closure, the pavilion’s staff began to look around and evaluate how the pavilion – with its hands-on kid-friendly exhibits – would operate under the new COVID-19 protocols and restrictions.
“We didn’t know what reopening looked like,” said Neil Dahlstrom, the Moline-based company’s branded properties and heritage manager.
Shuttered for 20 months, the pavilion had not yet had to accommodate any crowds or new mask and distance requirements, let alone pandemic-weary visitors.
Mr. Dahlstrom, who also oversees the John Deere Archives, recalled the months of planning to renovate the 25-year-old pavilion. During a walk-through, he said staff realized that some equipment on display “we don’t even build anymore.”
“We realized if we’re going to do it (remodel), we need to do it right now,” he said.
In April 2021, the team – led by Mr. Dahlstrom and Brandon Jens, Deere’s branded properties lead – launched “a visioning exercise to decide what do we want this place to be,” Mr. Dahlstrom said.
As the front door to the Quad Cities and its parent company Deere & Co., the pavilion’s time had come for upgrading its exhibits and information as well as some new technologies. “The world moves in real time now, and we need to too,” Mr. Dahlstrom said.
Mr. Jens, who manages the pavilion’s daily operations, said a new bank of video monitors and next generation exhibits offer a new flexibility to the pavilion staff. For instance, the content can be changed and adapted to cater to different groups and events at the pavilion.
Where in the past, they might have had a small display on the John Deere Classic, Mr. Jens said now the monitors could be showing live coverage during tournament week. Or they could broadcast footage from live international events such as Agritechnicha in Europe or the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where Deere unveiled its autonomous tractor.
“We could bring the world of John Deere here,” Mr. Dahlstrom said.
The team gathered input – and collected 90% of its new exhibit content – from the company’s marketing and branding staff. They wanted exhibits with much broader content about the modern-day manufacturer.
“When you look around here, it looks like there is less here, but in reality there is so much more,” Mr. Dahlstrom said of the interactive displays, animated features and kiosks that offer volumes of information with a simple touch of the finger.
A new interactive kiosk, Stomp & Spray, is fun and educational – telling the story of how Deere’s technology can determine if a plant is a weed or a crop. Visitors, young and old, can stomp out the weeds in a Dance Revolution-like game.
Among the other new features:
- We Run Hat Exhibit – A new interactive display of John Deere hats features videos with people sharing their iconic John Deere hats as well as their unique stories.
- Building for Generations – This newly constructed room helps show how the world’s challenges are evolving and how Deere products help customers overcome them.
- Leap Forward – Five eight-foot screens show imagery and videos portraying how Deere’s company’s intelligent connected machines are enabling lives to leap forward.
Previously, the pavilion might have showcased a few photographs and a short story to read about a piece of equipment’s history and evolution. “Now there are dozens of photos, more content and videos,” Mr. Dahlstrom added. “This allows us to reach into our archives and get more of it out for the world to see.”
But the team working with a few key suppliers still wanted it to be a place where employees could bring their families, show them the work of Deere around the globe, and be filled with pride to be part of the John Deere family.
The goal also was to better showcase what a leader the 185-year-old company has become in innovation, technology and sustainability, Mr. Dahlstrom said. “One of the changes for our visitors is that things are going to change.”
Mr. Jens and Mr. Dahlstrom said the equipment models on display also still include a few John Deere relics such as a 1918 all-wheel tractor – one of 90 built in East Moline – as well as new equipment being built across its ag, construction and forestry divisions.
While the 1918 tractor has been on display previously, Mr. Dahlstrom said “Now we also have a dozen photographs that show the half-built tractor in November 1917 and we can tell more of the story.”
“I have the perspective of studying company history and John Deere has a reputation for re-inventing itself over and over,” Mr. Dahlstrom said.
While the changes meant letting go of some equipment, Mr. Dahlstrom said they were very strategic. An innovative piece of forestry equipment known as a crawler, for example, was something Deere produced back in 1999. The crawler on display was donated to the Forestry History Center in Salem, Oregon. “It was important we find a home for that machine,” he added.
Today, visitors will see Deere’s modern equipment including a 410R sprayer with its 100-foot booms, an 8RX tractor, a 644X loader, a 333G compact loader, a new combine built down the road in East Moline, and a new X350 lawnmower sitting next to a 1963 lawn and garden tractor, one of the first models Deere built.
Mr. Jens said the newly renovated pavilion mirrors “how our brand should look and feel.”
John Deere Pavilion – at a glance
What: John Deere Pavilion is one of the John Deere Attractions.
Where: John Deere Commons, 1400 River Drive, Moline.
Recent project: After a major renovation to its exhibits, the pavilion re-opened Nov. 18 ahead of the 2021 Lighting of the Commons ceremony. It had been closed since March 2020.
History: The John Deere Pavilion and John Deere Store opened in 1997 as part of the newly developed John Deere Commons. In 2012, the pavilion was remodeled to celebrate John Deere’s 175th anniversary. The pavilion welcomed its 4 millionth guest on Oct. 3, 2018.
Visitors: 160,000 a year, on average. Nearly 35% are international visitors.
Hours: Monday, 1-5 p.m.; Tuesday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; closed Sunday.
Learn more: visitjohndeere.com.