MOLINE – Brandon Nees squinted into the sun Wednesday morning at the dilapidated, vacant Spiegel building, and all he saw was bright, boundless possibility.

Civic and Art Leaders Welcome Bright New Installation on Moline Riverfront

Nees at the installation of his work Wednesday. Oct. 21, 2020.

That’s partly because the 25-year-old Davenport artist, who graduated from Moline High School, painted the word “possibility” in big turquoise block letters across seven plywood panels – among nine colorful 7.6-foot-by-6.75 feet panels he created for a $10,000 public mural on the boarded-up ground floor of the city-owned Spiegel building off River Drive (200 20th St.) in downtown Moline.

“It’s amazing,” Nees said of the finished product on the building, installed Wednesday. The wild pink figures on each end represent tribal Indian leaders, with flowers to reflect growth, he said.

“He’s maneuvering all these blocks into letters,” Nees said, noting each panel also includes spheres, pyramids and cubes, with navy-blue accents. “It’s kind of a weightless feel to it, while making the letters really solid.”

“I wanted to add the three shapes to represent weightlessness and building,” he said. Several of his family members attended the Wednesday unveiling.

Through a competitive process led by the city and Renew Moline, Nees’s proposal was chosen from among 28 submissions.

Civic and Art Leaders Welcome Bright New Installation on Moline Riverfront

Moline Mayor Stephanie Acri, left, talks with Nees and Renew Moline CEO Alex Elias.

The purpose of the Spiegel mural project is to beautify and draw attention to the building, a city-owned asset and important piece of the historic fabric of downtown. The four-story Spiegel building is also at the center of the redevelopment area created by the $1.2 billion I-74 bridge project.

The public art project is designed to both encourage dialogue about the future development of the area and create curiosity and interest in the building, by imagining the “possibility.”

It’s one of the few remaining factory buildings in downtown Moline from the industrial era – originally built between 1928 and 1930 as the Eagle Signal Building, according to Renew Moline, a nonprofit organization and public-private partnership.

“It’s phenomenal,” Renew Moline CEO Alexandra Elias said of the mural Wednesday. “Brandon is a top-notch professional. He has been super responsive, super professional – which I hate to say this, but you don’t always get with artists. Brandon is the full package; he’s gonna do great. I’m so happy for him. He really sees this as an example for his younger siblings and his family.”

Civic and Art Leaders Welcome Bright New Installation on Moline Riverfront

Moline Mayor Stephanie Acri speaks with Brandon Nees.

Nees describes his style as “an abstract taste of contemporary typography using mixed media.” In his bio, the self-taught artist wrote: “I believe my work commands the attention of passers-by, rewards the focus of new as well as seasoned collectors, and transforms a plain surface into work of art made to last for generations. My goal for every painting is to make a lasting impression and provoke self-reflection.

“I find motivation in my own journey towards being a better person and relaying that through my art to help guide others down a path of self-care and consciousness to the world around us,” Nees said. He painted the Moline panels in his downtown Davenport studio.

Public Art Steering Committee members were excited by the “street art” style of his proposal. Kevin Maynard, Quad City Arts’ executive director and Public Art Steering Committee member, said: “This proposal is unique. There really isn’t another public art project like it in the Quad-Cities.”

Civic and Art Leaders Welcome Bright New Installation on Moline Riverfront

Kevin Maynard is executive director of Quad City Arts.

“I am thrilled,” Maynard said Wednesday at the site. “Overall, it’s exactly what was represented in his concept. I hope it draws attention to the building itself, but I hope it also draws attention just to public art in general.

“People are excited to see this go up and it completely changes how the building looks as you’re approaching it,” he said. “We work with the

Civic and Art Leaders Welcome Bright New Installation on Moline Riverfront

Davenport artist Brandon Nees.

Metro Arts program to put murals onto buildings, but we’ve never done something quite like this, with this kind of focus and purpose.”

“It’s gorgeous,” Moline Mayor Stephanie Acri said. “It just makes the building look so pretty. I really think he needs to do the other sides as well. We’ve had so much interest in redeveloping this building. This is our future; it’s gonna be gorgeous, so we’re really excited he was able to just give the community a feel for what this space is going to look like someday.”

In January 2016, prior owner Tom Spiegel sold it to Moline for $303,000, and in 2018, the city sought $327,500 for the building.

There already are multiple redevelopment proposals, which have yet to be considered by the city council. “There are some really cool ones,” Acri said. “We’re envisioning that it could be some type of mixed use. We’re working with an organization called Urban Land Institute and they’re experts from across the nation that are gonna come into Moline and help guide us.

“What do we really want for this space?” she said. “It’s not just this building; it’s all along this corridor from the vacated bridge. What are we gonna do? How are we gonna finance it?”

The city is working with the institute to get recommendations on the redevelopment, the mayor said.

“It’ll take a good planning process to make sure we don’t squander this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Acri said. “We’re just so excited.”

Civic and Art Leaders Welcome Bright New Installation on Moline Riverfront

Brandon Nees’s original concept for the “Possibility” mural.

The benefit of the Spiegel art is not so much to spur the building renovation, but “to help the community understand,” she said. “When you look at this, it’s beautiful and it draws your eye to it. It makes people think of what comes next. We know this beautiful bridge is going in, but what else happens here?”

“This is a way to celebrate that,” Acri said of the art. Urban Land Institute will make recommendations for the building on how much of it should be residential versus retail and commercial, she said. Park space along the riverfront is possible as well.

Acri anticipates the planning to come in the spring, including input from the public.

The city owns the artwork now, so it can be repurposed by the developer, or moved to another location in the city, Elias said.

Civic and Art Leaders Welcome Bright New Installation on Moline Riverfront

Alexandra Elias is CEO of Renew Moline.

This also has spurred Nees’s interest in doing more public art. “I’ve always wanted to do big murals,” he said. “This has definitely pushed me into doing more bigger stuff.

“When I think about the whole process, and what I did, I was impressed with myself,” he said. “I want to inspire kids and other people to do stuff like this.”

Renew Moline is doing three more virtual public-art tours of downtown, led by its consulting firm, Designing Local. The team will lead viewers virtually through a two-hour tour of seven downtown sites to review existing conditions and dream big about how public art could benefit each space.

They will start Thursday, Oct. 22 at 5:30 p.m.; Oct. 27 at 4:30 p.m. and Oct. 28 at 10 a.m., on Zoom. You can register at Eventbrite.com.

The Spiegel project is part a comprehensive downtown public-art master plan that Renew Moline has proposed. They’re working with the Designing Local, based in Columbus, Ohio, which has done such master plans for cities nationwide, including Atlanta.

“There are possibilities for public art all over downtown and our plan covers all of downtown,” Elias said. For more information, visit www.renewmoline.com.

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Civic and Art Leaders Welcome Bright New Installation on Moline Riverfront
Jonathan Turner has been covering the Quad-Cities arts scene for 25 years, first as a reporter with the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, and then as a reporter with the Quad City Times. Jonathan is also an accomplished actor and musician who has been seen frequently on local theater stages, including the Bucktown Revue and Black Box Theatre.