QC’s help sought to turn Moline’s front porch into a beloved place

Among MKSK Studio’s best known projects is this one for the District Wharf Promenade in Washington. CREDIT MKSK

With world-class design and architectural firm MKSK Studios officially on board, the focus of Moline’s riverfront planning process pivots to finding out what residents want to see and do on their community’s front porch.

The upcoming aggressive and inclusive public engagement effort will be set in motion as part of a planning effort that Moline City Administrator Bob Vitas called “one of the most important undertakings by the city following the purchase of the Bridgepoint 485 property from the Heritage Church in December of 2022.”

On Tuesday, Aug. 22, the Moline City Council officially signed MKSK to a $500,000 contract. Its unanimous endorsement came after a lengthy process – launched by city staff and Renew Moline – to create a once-in-a-generation plan for transforming the riverfront space created by the old Interstate 74 bridge’s demolition and the new one’s construction.

“It’s really an outstanding scope of work,” Mr. Vitas said of the firm’s plan. He was a member of the committee of eight that vetted the 18 “world-class” firms which vied for the project.  

“If all goes well (the project) will launch in September and we’ll be done by this time next year,” he said. 

Also celebrating is Renew Moline President and CEO Alexandra Elias.

“I believe MKSK is the right team to lead the community into thinking about the greatest asset, which is our riverfront,” she said. “I’m excited to get started.”

She also is looking forward to Renew Moline’s evolving role in the project. 

“We’ve been in a leadership role on some of the visioning” as the city dealt with transitions in key staff positions, she said. Now, however, “we are happy to be in a supporting role to the city as they start this process.”

Join the conversation

Among the things Renew Moline will do is assist with fun and creative events developed to engage Quad Citians. “It will largely be a conversation with the community and so if I had to emphasize one thing with you it would be that, I hope people participate,” Ms. Elias said. “This is a once-in-a-generation, as we often say, chance to decide what your community looks like at its front porch.”

Promenade Park, Toledo, Ohio. CREDIT MKSK

How will it look? Ms. Elias said “Mayor (Sangeetha) Rayapati is very geared toward asking the question ‘What do people want to do at the riverfront?’ … And that doesn‘t mean just jogging and biking. That means how people want to use the space and how they want to be in the space.”

For instance, Ms. Elias added, “Some will want to just use the riverfront to sit on a comfortable bench and watch the rowers. Other people will want to be training for a triathlon. Other people will be on skateboards or in wheelchairs. And I think the idea of creating a space that’s for everyone will be super important. We want people to be there.”

MKSK shares that focus and its urban design team has already begun to ask those kinds of questions, Moline leaders say.

For the Renew chief, the overall theme continues to be incorporating things that make fond memories for visitors and locals alike. “I think we’re really looking to create a beloved space that the community is fond of; that they’re proud of, and when people come to visit they say, ‘Wow, I really want to show you the Moline riverfront’ or ‘I really want to show you the Spiegel Building,’” she said.

She also stressed that the upcoming visioning sessions are not a repeat of earlier ones. These will be different because “it’s going to get a lot more specific,” she said. Planners also will not only be collecting comments and suggestions, they will be paying attention to what is said. 

Planners ready to listen

“If I was sending an email to a person in the city about my ideas for something I wouldn’t always have confidence that people will look at it, but I can tell you personally that we do look at it and people can feel confident that if they share their thoughts that they’ll be seen,” Ms. Elias told the QCBJ. For example, she said, Mr. Vitas received a list of ideas from a resident that he quickly shared around with riverfront planners.

The award-winner Scioto Greenway was created to reconnect downtown Columbus, Ohio, to the rivefront. CREDIT MKSK

Mr. Vitas and Ms. Elias also stressed that MKSK has a targeted set of tasks to do and ambitious goals to hit throughout the 11-month contract cycle. And the team’s work will include complicated and critical components such as effective floodplain management.

“When we were evaluating different teams, we paid a lot of attention to who is on their team that’s going to address flood protection and what their qualifications are,” Ms. Elias said. “What have they done before?” 

Leaders were impressed with the MKSK team’s record and credentials.

Moline planners also asked MKSK and other firms to identify “what’s going to be the first project out of the gate and how are we going to get to the end of this and not just have a plan but really have a plan to implement and so our discussions and the interviews with the firms had a lot to do with how are we not going to just end up with a book with pretty pictures and saying, ‘this is our plan, and now what do we do?’” Ms. Elias said.

First project critical

MKSK talked about two things with Moline, she said. “They talked about the importance of that first project. What is it; where is it, and how do you pay for it. And they talked about what they called right-sizing that first project. So you can’t say, ‘we want a 25-acre park;’ if you can’t pay for it.”

The firm also has “a philosophy of pairing public improvements – so a riverfront park of whatever size or a walking path – with private investment.”

That’s important, she said, because it tells investors “they’re going to get a lot more bang for their buck.” 

In Moline, she added, “They’re going to get the river. They’re going to get all the wonderful things that downtown Moline brings. But in addition to that they’re going to get this very special thing the city is creating.”

She encouraged Quad Citians to visit the MKSK website at mkskstudios.com and search riverfront projects to see previous work the firm has done elsewhere.

On a personal level and closer to home, Ms. Elias pointed at a local example of the kind of quality additions she wants to see come to the riverfront.

“If people want to know what high quality design is, I always point to the John Deere Pavilion because that is a timeless design. It’s a lot of steel. It’s a lot of glass. It’s a lot of brick pavers that are still in very good shape and it’s simple but it’s very high quality, so it’s timeless. That building, and the area around it look as good today as it did when it went up in 1997.”   QCBJ

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