Muscatine developer believes in investing in downtown

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MUSCATINE, Iowa — What started as a hobby turned into a full-time job for Tom and Ann Meeker, owners of Muscatine Downtown Investors. He and his wife have been in downtown Muscatine for 20 years.

"I went by some buildings that were vacant, and we thought, 'why are they vacant?' So, you know, the first 12 buildings I purchased were vacant, and that's when I was doing all the work myself, to just get them fixed up enough to rent them out and that's how the ball started rolling," said Meeker. His company has invested $20 million in downtown and rents out about 60 buildings.

He and his wife are passionate about developing downtown Muscatine. They get satisfaction and purpose out of renovating old buildings and bringing them back to life.

"In great towns, you have to start with downtowns." said Meeker. "We feel that if it's a great downtown everybody in town does good."

One of the buildings he purchased and renovated is the old Hotel Muscatine. It is now the Riverview Condos. There is a vacant restaurant space on the second level. The Meekers want to find an owner /  operator for the restaurant within 6 or 7 months, in time to get the kinks worked out before the new hotel development opens in December 2017.

Meeker envisions a steak house going in the vacant restaurant space, which has recently been updated, including a four seasons dining room that was transformed from a second story porch. The restaurant seats 200 people and has views of the Mississippi River. The restaurant will connect via sky walk to Muscatine's newest hotel, the Merrill Hotel and Conference Center.

The Merrill Hotel and Convention Center will be a 4-star hotel. The 6th floor of the hotel will be a convention center.

"Most of the larger corporations that are here have their shareholder meetings, board meetings outside the city, now they're going to bring them inside the city at this hotel and conference center," said Dave Gobin Community Development Director for the City of Muscatine. He said Muscatine has $250 million of investments committed to Muscatine over this year and the next two years.

" [The hotel] will increase the business in the community whether its a business visitor or someone who's touring or just stopping by or participating in a sporting event," said Greg Jenkins, President and CEO of the Greater Muscatine Chamber of Commerce.

For five years, the Meekers worked withe the development of the Merrill Hotel and Convention Center. They said they recently sold their portion of the $42 million project to the Howe Investment Fund. Meeker said 70% of the project is wrapped up in the Howe Investment Fund, 20% is investment from China, and the remaining 10% is split between two additional investors from Muscatine.

"[The hotel] got so big, too large for Ann and I do do," said Meeker. He said has a good relationship with the new investors. "That's why we're going to hook it up to this building, and this restaurant is going to be our part, a little show piece of it."