Architecture in the Quad Cities: Legat Architects Celebrates 5 Years in Moline, Illinois
Architect reflects on challenges of opening new studio, the growing appeal of the Quad Cities region
[Moline, IL] – Architect Jeff Sandberg wore a helmet and sat in a camping chair at a makeshift desk while construction crews worked around him. That was just over five years ago, when old insurance company offices were getting converted into Legat Architects’ new Quad Cities studio in Moline, Illinois. The Quad Cities consists of Moline and Rock Island on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River, and the cities of Bettendorf and Davenport on the Iowa side.
Sandberg, who joined Legat Architects in 2000, has visited many construction sites, so the crews didn’t bother him. He said, “If they were sawing, they were sawing. If they were hammering, they were hammering. If I had to take a call, I’d move out into the hall.”
But Sandberg did have a much bigger concern: “I was the firm’s Quad Cities guy, so it was really a sink or swim scenario.”
Legat Architects had worked with several western Illinois school districts and its relationship with Moline-Coal Valley School District 40 dates to the early 1990s. However, the firm had nowhere near the same foothold in the Quad Cities as it did in the Chicago area. The challenge was to build Legat’s regional reputation and establish a solid client base.
It was tough at first. Sandberg manned the helm, either supporting or getting help from Legat’s Chicago area studios. His dedication paid off—as the firm’s reputation grew, more projects arrived. The local client base grew. Gradually, the studio took on more staff. The firm secured its first Iowa client.
Today, Sandberg leads a growing studio with seven full-time employees. Architects and interior designers from the firm’s other locations often work at the Moline studio. Legat Architects’ Quad Cities region clientele include the following:
- Nine school districts: Moline-Coal Valley School District No. 40 (Illinois), Bellevue Community School District (Iowa), Bettendorf Community School District (Iowa), Davenport Community Schools (Iowa), Durant Community School District (Iowa), North Scott Community Schools (Eldridge, Iowa), Rock Island-Milan School District 41 (Illinois), Orion Community Unit School District 223 (Illinois), Silvis School District 34 (East Moline, Illinois) with more anticipated soon.
- The City of Moline
- Several corporations with designs for new headquarters in the works
The firm recently embarked on its largest Iowa commission (the $15 million new Grant Wood School in Bettendorf) to date, as well as the Moline High School Performing Arts Center and a new Hyatt Place and Hyatt House hotel complex (East Moline) under construction along the riverfront.
“We worked hard to grow our Quad Cities area client and market base,” said Legat President/CEO Patrick Brosnan. “What helped was our reputation for building long-term client relationships and never walking away from projects, as well as our emphasis on strong design and clear documentation.”
The School That Started It All
Sandberg attributes much of the firm’s regional success to Moline District 40 and the studio’s first significant commission: Hamilton Elementary School in Moline. Completed in August, 2015, the school went on to be highly influential within the Quad Cities. Enrollment grew by 60 students the following year. Hamilton hosted the Illinois Association of School Boards Blackhawk Division’s meeting of over 60 superintendents and administrators. It also hosted the Edcamp Quad Cities event, a venue for educators, parents, students, and board members from the region to share knowledge and ideas. One of many districts that toured Hamilton was Bettendorf Community Schools, which later interviewed and commissioned Legat Architects to design its new Grant Wood Elementary School.
District 40’s now-retired Director of Facilities Darryl Snyder, who had been Legat’s primary district contact since 1997, was one of the studio’s first clients when it opened its doors.
“While Legat’s designs are attractive, they are also appropriate and sensitive to construction and operating budgets,” said Snyder. “They do what they say they are going to do for the compensation they agree to up front. Their fee is very competitive. They can be trusted.”
Robin Randall, leader of the firm’s preK-12 education segment, works from the Moline studio several days a month. She said, “Visionary leaders at schools throughout the Quad Cities region are transforming the way that education is being delivered and are looking for facilities that inspire learning for years to come. What impresses me most about these leaders is their openness to change and their willingness to put children first.”
When Kalyssa Worden joined Legat’s Quad Cities studio last April, she experienced an environment where spirited design discussions and having fun are encouraged.
“While I may have a couple projects on my plate, I never feel like I’m on my own,” she said. “I can ask questions, get design feedback, and get help if I need it. I feel like I’m part of a team instead of just a worker bee.”
Sandberg has carried over to the Quad Cities studio the same sense of camaraderie he experienced when he joined Legat’s Oak Brook studio after receiving his master’s degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“I was fortunate enough to begin my career at Legat, in a low-key setting with cooperative leadership that mentors its emerging professionals,” said Sandberg. “So here in the Moline studio there’s a strong work ethic, but we also like to have fun and let things flow naturally.”
Origins of The Q
When Legat expanded to Moline, there were just two other larger multi-office architects in the area, along with local firms with strong reputations, but lacking the resources for large-scale projects.
Two such projects came from Legat’s first new local clients: the City of Moline and Russell (construction company). The former challenged the firm to design a new multimodal transit station that would help reconnect Moline to downtown Chicago via rail. Russell, Legat’s partner on Hamilton Elementary, then tapped Legat’s hospitality team to transform the historic Sears, Roebuck warehouse (in the same building as the multimodal station) into the new Element Moline hotel, along with retail and restaurant space.
“It was do or die with these two,” said Sandberg. “Out here, reputation is everything, and bad news travels as fast as good. I told the team if a client is not one hundred percent satisfied, let me know right away.”
Today, that multimodal transit station/hotel development, called “The Q,” is the talk of the town. Mike Amin with The Amin Group (developer for The Q), said, “This mixed-use development will not only help revive Moline’s downtown, but it will also serve as a rail gateway for the entire Quad Cities region.”
The transit station recently completed construction and the hotel is slated to open in January, 2018. The Illinois Department of Transportation and Iowa-Interstate Railroad are in discussions about building a high-speed rail track infrastructure.
Five years ago, there was not a lot of activity in Moline when Legat set up shop there.
“Our office building was one of few in the area, and many of the buildings looked unoccupied,” said Sandberg. “Now there’s a lot of growth here and we’re at the heart of a vibrant downtown.”
The firm’s office at 1515 5th Avenue is within walking distance of the TaxSlayer Center (i.e., sporting/concert arena and conference venue) and a wide variety of restaurants.
“Over the last few years, we’ve seen an upsurge of tourism- and business-related development in the Quad Cities,” said April Maifield, Legat’s director of hospitality. “The projects Legat has helped develop align with a unique population that seeks everything from historic adaptive re-use to modern new construction. It’s all about the experience.”
Sandberg sees good things happening in the larger Quad Cities region, and there are no signs of letting up. Current or planned Quad Cities construction includes the following:
- New I-74 Bridge, which will pass over the Mississippi and connect Moline and Bettendorf with eight lanes of traffic
- I-80 and Middle Road Corridor development, including a potential $65 million sports complex (Bettendorf)
- Scott Community College Urban Campus (Davenport)
- $60 million City Square mixed-use project (Davenport)
- Genesis Medical Center East campus expansion (Davenport)
- The Bend on the Mighty Mississippi, a mixed-use development for which Legat is designing the Hyatt Place and Hyatt House (East Moline)
- The Q mixed-use development (Moline)
- New Rock Island County Courthouse (Rock Island)
“Historically, the Quad Cities is known as a major industrial area,” said Sandberg. “Now we’re seeing a transformation driven largely by growth in healthcare, hospitality, and other service industries. And of course, the river is a huge attraction.”
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