From Combines to Casinos

Bettendorf, Iowa, situated on prime real estate on the Mississippi River banks, is a small Midwestern town that is being shaped by the most recent construction and its latest economic center—a casino and convention center. Since the Bettendorf’s earliest years, the section of town that meets the river has housed an industrial center, with easy shipping access and a railroad track that separates it from the rest of the town to the north.

The stretch of land once held of Bettendorf Brothers Co., an iron wagon manufacturer, after which the town was named. Then JI Case Threshing Machine Co. took over the site and manufactured combines, until the business shut down in the 1960s. Decades later, developer Bernard Goldstein built an outlet mall on the site, but it never opened.

As part of Steamboat Development Co. (owned by the Goldstein family), he constructed Lady Luck Casino and Hotel on the Bettendorf industrial site, which was later acquired by Isle of Capri Casinos Inc. of which Goldstein is part owner and CEO. Isle of Capri Casinos has gambling sites across the United States and overseas.

The 152,000-square-foot hotel was eight stories high, included a detached parking garage (175,000 square feet for 500 cars), and was connected with sky bridges to a riverboat casino. The name was eventually to Isle of Capri Casino and Hotel, Bettendorf.

Tri-City Electric Co. of Iowa Inc., Davenport, Iowa, was part of the design-build team during the original construction. It installed power and lighting for the parking deck and hotel.

In the current construction project, the Isle of Capri is adding a 12-story tower to the existing hotel. The two-story parking garage is being expanded into three-stories, adding on-grade parking, and the marina and casino are being further connected through climate-controlled skywalks.

At the same time, the city of Bettendorf is constructing a convention center across the railroad tracks from the hotel. Conventioneers can stay in the new hotel tower and cross to their meetings or trade shows through the Isle of Capri’s skyway system. The convention center is expected to open in 2007.

“The hotel will in part feed the demand of our own patrons, but will also accommodate those visiting the convention center,” said Malloy.

Also on the project site is the former unused retail outlet mall. It has since been turned into the Isle Center, which houses administrative offices, a banquet hall, a steak house and a comedy club. The new annex is located on the east end of Isle Center, north of the parking deck and south of the railroad tracks. It will have the same amenities as the existing hotel.

The parking deck will be at the center of skyways that will now connect both hotel towers to the casino and Isle Center.

For the current hotel annex project, Tom Lanum, Tri-City Electric project estimator said, “Ryan Companies issued us the schematic documents. Tri-City Electric designed the electrical distribution, lighting and fire alarm requirements.”

Because the project is design-build, he said, “We’re in the middle working with the client, the general contractor and HVAC contractor.”

Groundbreaking took place in October 2005. Due to the previous manufacturing that took place there, it is considered a brownfield construction. Working on a former industrial site creates challenges for crews who may discover former foundations and structures that may be obstacles to trenching. Crews are also working in a small space around the needs of a busy hotel and casino, without interfering with the functions of the casino.

“We have to become invisible,” said Doug Palmer, Tri-City Electric president.

“The casino’s first priority goes to casino operations and its patrons,” Berlingeri said. “We have to have a low profile and maintain safety for the public.”

Space has been an issue with this project from the onset. With railroad tracks to the north and the river to the south, there is limited area for the hotel and casino’s growth and for contractors to move around the job site. Although its square footage is similar, the annex has a smaller footprint than the previous hotel because of the tight space. In the meantime, the construction site is congested with equipment.

“You have to coordinate with the trades to make it all fit,” Lanum said.

Michelle Berlingeri, project manager for general contractor Ryan Companies, has been in the front seat for the original construction and the expansion. She originally worked for Goldstein and was construction coordinator for the new Lady Luck in 1998.

According to Berlingeri, the hotel annex is expected to be completed by spring 2007. It is a slightly shorter time frame than the previous construction project, and has the additional demands of working around the needs of the casino and hotel patrons.

“They want to keep this construction quiet and hassle-free for visitors,” Lanum said. “[Therefore] we use behind-the-scenes project access.”

To access the Lady Luck casino when it first opened, a bridge was constructed over the railroad tracks to the riverfront, connecting the city and highway traffic to the hotel and casino without interfering with rail traffic.

Instead of traveling the bridge that links downtown Bettendorf and the highway to the casino, workers’ trucks use a gravel road that crosses the railroad tracks, causing them to wait for freight trains as they pass. Only when they are laying concrete will construction workers use the bridge. This keeps concrete trucks from being held up by train traffic.

Brownfield construction

Although most of the former Case manufacturing plant is gone, Palmer said they still expect to find foundation as they continue with their underground work.

The original concrete platform of the building was asphalted over and construction crews were left to dig that platform out with jackhammers and excavators.

“When you discover obstacles, you reroute,” Palmer said. Berlingeri agreed that pieces of foundation may very well still act as obstructions in the parking area, which will go directly over old manufacturing space.

Some of the deep foundation work was underway during the week of Valentine’s Day and the street had to open before Friday evening.

“Before we close anything off, we have to coordinate with operations,” Berlingeri said. “We coordinate with the casino when we can close the road off.”

So far, the project has been seamless.

“It doesn’t interfere with our operations and most guests don’t even realize construction is going on unless they see the crane,” Malloy said.

Malloy attributes that to a combination of the construction site location and the flexibility of the construction crews. Since the flow of supplies goes through a separate entrance, “It’s been smooth sailing for us,” he said. “I think with this construction, this will be the finest business hotel the Quad Cities have to offer.” EC

SWEDBERG is a freelance writer based in western Washington. She can be reached at



About the Author

Claire Swedberg

Freelance Writer
Claire Swedberg is a freelance writer based in western Washington. She can be reached at .

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