Ascentra Credit Union needed a new headquarters building to make space for its growing workforce.
The credit union worked with the city to ensure its new facility was as good for the community as it was for the credit union.
Bettendorf, IA, is the smallest of the Quad Cities, a collection of communities on a stretch of the Illinois-Iowa border bisected by the Mississippi River, with Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa and Rock Island and Moline in Illinois.
In the 1940s, the Alcoa Corporation — one of the world’s largest aluminum producers — built the world’s largest aluminum mill in an enclave of Bettendorf, bringing to the city economic growth and thousands of jobs. It was in the basement of this plant that in 1950 that Alcoa Credit Union was founded.
Both the plant and the credit union have since rebranded — the plant to Arconic and the credit union to Ascentra Credit Union ($413.9M, Bettendorf, IA) — but the financial cooperative still has deep ties to its hometown. Those ties were on full display during the construction of its new 40,000-square-foot headquarters building, which Ascentra refers to as its "home office."
The Quad Cities include Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa and Rock Island and Moline in Illinois.
The Importance Of Building A Downtown
In 2015, Ascentra operated a three-building headquarters campus. Combined, the space comprised 19,000 square feet and included a two-story, 11,000-square-foot office building plus two small adjoining buildings. One of those buildings was a converted fireplace store that housed Ascentra’s IT team. All told, some 50 employees worked in this maxed-out setup.
“We were putting new back-office support staff into our branches,” says Dale Owen, the credit union’s CEO. “We couldn’t shoehorn any more employees into our existing location.”
It was during the 2015 board planning sessions that the credit union considered a change. But how great?
When we pitched our plan, we showed them how it would aid the city's master plan already in place. We showed how our vision fit with their plan, and they saw the benefit in that.
Remaining in Bettendorf was critical. The credit union retains a strong presence with mill workers, who often passed by the old headquarters on their way to or from work. In fact, initial plans had the credit union building onto its existing footprint rather than moving locations. However, a combination of factors, including the bedrock shelf below the building and other inefficiencies, resulted in a steep price tag that the credit union was not willing to pay. So, moving it was.
The decision to relocate its headquarters coincided with two major Quad City projects that were in production. The city was constructing a new bridge over Interstate 74 to update the physical link between Bettendorf and fellow Quad City, Moline, IL, though this development will have regional benefits as well. At the same time, the Quad Cities Chamber had rolled out its Q2030 Regional Action Plan, a developmental initiative that will help the area create jobs and retain young workers, make the Quad Cities an attractive destination, and create connected, creative places, Owen says.
For a $400 million shop with a large decision to make, these developments gave the credit union further reason to invest in the city. Specifically, these developments gave the credit union a reason to build downtown.
Ascentra’s new 40,000-square-foot headquarters building includes a first-floor retail set up and three additional levels of back-office space.
How To Work With The City
Years ago, the Quad Cities collapsed their chambers of commerce into a single body, the Quad Cities Chamber. The Chamber encompasses several smaller development boards and organizations that focus on the individual cities themselves. Because of their involvement with these boards and organization, Owen and his team understood Bettendorf’s master plan. Of note, the city wants a proper downtown.
“We didn’t really have one here in Bettendorf,” Owen says. “We knew we needed resources to make that happen.”
As the credit union was looking for space to purchase and develop, the city put out a request for proposal on a one-square-block plot of land. On this land, the city attached a tax-increment financing (TIF) subsidy — an incentive for developers to rehabilitate underused properties. The city offered the selected developer the right to purchase the land for $1 upfront with a TIF attached that stated the developer would receive a yearly rebate on a portion of its property taxes; the dollar amount and timeframe would be negotiated later.
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Owen believes Ascentra’s positive brand reputation in the Quad Cities helped it win the rights to the land. Rather than purchase the land for $1, however, the credit union offered to pay appraised value and with that extra money the city was able to purchase Ascentra’s old headquarters site. In doing so, the credit union was able to work collaboratively with the city to ensure the land went to a developer who was willing to work within the city’s Q2030 plan. Ascentra will recoup $2 million in property taxes over the next 10 years, per the TIF agreement.
“When we pitched our plan, we showed them how it would aid the city's master plan already in place,” Owen says. “We weren’t selling our vision, we showed how our vision fit with their plan, and they saw the benefit in that.”
But the credit union’s efforts to improve the city doesn’t end at a new building. Owen is the vice chair of the Downtown Bettendorf Organization, a newly formed division of the Quad Cities Chamber that manages funds generated by a new self-supported municipal improvement district (SSMID).
Property owners within the defined SSMID pay an annual levy based on the assessed taxable value of their property. That money helps fund other improvements in the district — from revitalization to marketing and promotional efforts.
“Building owners care about their property values,” Owen says. “We felt if we could make downtown a destination for people through the SSMID, then it would help everyone in the long run.”
Click here to learn more about the SSMID.
Agreements in place, Ascentra began construction on a 40,000-square-foot, four-story headquarters building. Like its previous HQ, a branch occupies the ground floor. But now, some 74 back-office employees work in the upper stories.
And those aren’t the only people who work in the building. The facility includes offices for First Community Trust as well as its insurance partner, TruStage.
The city is represented, too. The Downtown Bettendorf Organization has an office in the building, and the executive director hosts meetings to further develop the business interests of downtown Bettendorf. Afterall, what’s good for the city is good for the credit union — and vice versa.
“Development had stagnated in Bettendorf for a few years,” Owen says. “But it’s picked up, and we see ourselves playing a major part in it.”
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