New plans for 8 acres of land near Moline’s WIU campus after original plans fail

MOLINE-- Moline leaders are exploring new options for the eight acres of land next to the Western Illinois University campus after the original idea didn't go according to plan.

The campus attracted developers to put in the Mills apartments and the retail space below for students with plans to expand to the lot next door. But business wasn't as good as expected.

Numerous retail vacancies occupy the building. The Happy Joe's Pizza Grill closed its doors less than two years after originally opening because business was bad.

"You have to have the market there for what you want to do, and the market just wasn't there for what they wanted to do," says Moline City Planning and Development Director Ray Forsythe.

Students say the housing and retail plan never was a good fit.

"Between my classes, I only have an hour, so I don't have time to walk all the way over there, sit down, eat, and come back," says WIU junior Kelli Carlson.

Bryce Allison is a senior. He says he did live in the Mills apartments.

"I actually had a year's worth of living at the Mills," says Allison.

But Allison moved out because he says it wasn't affordable.

Others say state funding issues played a role too.

"The state budget problems have been a challenge in Illinois keeping the campus growing, kind of slowed down, so we had to rethink what the market availability is," says Forsythe.

The first developer wanted to move on to a second phase, but the city decided to cut ties now because they didn't make their money back on the first development. The original investment from the city was about $3.5M.

So now plans have changed. Instead of building restaurants and housing, they want to bring in something, they say, is a better fit.

"We're negotiating the development agreement for a corporate headquarters. It's about a $25M project," says Forsythe.

City leaders say the new developer did their homework and are confident this new plan will work.

No word on what company is moving their headquarters here. City developers say it's a local company reinvesting in the Quad Cities. City leaders are expecting a formal development proposal from the un-named company within the next few weeks. It will then be presented to city council.