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Making Way for Walmart

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The Illinois Iowa Center for Independent Living officially opened its new building on Monday, just up the street from its old location in the Watch Tower Plaza, after moving out to make room for a new Walmart.

The organization held a ribbon cutting and grand opening celebration at the new facility at 501 11th Street Monday afternoon.

And, there was a lot of reason to celebrate.

"We've got more meeting space. We do a lot of community outreach with meetings and bringing folks in and the size," said John Punkiewicz, treasurer for the Illinois Iowa Center for Independent Living.

The city of Rock Island bought the group out of its old facility at the Watch Tower Plaza and tore it down as soon as they moved out last week.

It was one more step to clear the way for a new Walmart to come in.

"We have to have economic development. We have to have sales tax. So we need to get Walmart here," Rock Island Mayor Dennis Pauley said.

And the city is willing to invest up to $15 million to do that.

But, Walmart has still not signed a final deal with the city to build here, and there's still no concrete timeline for when that will happen.

"What they do is they sign a bunch of them at the same time at a board meeting," Pauley said, "So whenever they have their board meeting."

City leaders are confident the company will sign the deal.

"Everything is fine with Walmart. We're just moving along the process," Pauley said.

The next step in that process: Dollar General will be moving out of the Watch Tower Plaza as soon as its new store up the street is ready.

The city has already approved a contract to demolish the strip mall building all the way to Hill and Valley at the end of the plaza. That company is set to move out in October or November.

In the meantime, the new Illinois Iowa Center for Independent Living is open and providing services.

"When you look at independent living, you want to be seamless, and we're doing that with the transition from the old building to the new building," Punkiewicz said.

And, the new development is a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

"Anytime you are able to have a new building, construction, to carry on with the legacy of such a great organization, it provides hope for an entire community," said Rev. Dwight Ford, executive director of the Martin Luther King Junior Community Center.

A new Walmart should do a lot for the community, too:

"400 jobs, $1.4 million a year in sales tax. All the property tax, all the tax that goes to the schools, it's going to mean a lot," Pauley explained.

And, city officials say Walmart may be able to break ground at the Watch Tower Plaza even before Hill and Valley moves out.

They say they expect construction on the new store to begin by late this fall or early 2015.

The city could end up spending up to $15 million to bring in the new Walmart, and Walmart would buy the property for $4.5 million dollars.

Mayor Pauley says it will be about a 15 to 20 year payback.

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