One of the coolest and most affordable holiday gifts in the Quad Cities is finally back open — the gleaming, glass-enclosed, very green John Deere Pavilion, at 1400 River Drive, Moline.

After being closed since March 2020, one of the area’s most popular tourist attractions — and one of Illinois’ top five visitor destinations — reopened for the Lighting on the Commons on Nov. 20, 2021, after a total reimagining, redesign and renovation.

Deere hasn’t promoted the 14,000-square-foot pavilion reopening for a few reasons, said Neil Dahlstrom, John Deere’s branded properties and heritage manager.

Neil Dahlstrom stands in front of a John Deere Sprayer in the John Deere Pavilion Dec. 10, 2021 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“We still have to recognize that we’re in the midst of a pandemic,” he said Friday in an exclusive tour for Local 4. “We built in a lot of open space, because we want people to feel comfortable and we just decided we didn’t need a big promotion. We know that people talk; people are on social media. If you come and you’re excited, you’re gonna share with friends. You’re gonna share with family.”

“We’re also preparing for 2022, which will be our 25th anniversary. We’ll certainly do some sort of celebration,” Dahlstrom said.

The Pavilion (which requires all visitors to wear face coverings) has attracted well over one and a half million guests from over 50 countries and all 50 states since originally opening in 1997. It closed when the COVID shutdown happened in mid-March 2020, and the company debated how to reopen later in the year. They started seeing equipment that either were no longer in production, or hadn’t been replaced since 2012, at the center’s last major renovation.

The front desk of the John Deere Pavilion, decked out with Christmas poinsettias.

The Moline-based company — which had $5.96 billion in net income and $44 billion in total sales in fiscal year 2021 — moved from doing a pavilion refresh to a total remodel, Dahlstrom said. “We really started looking at the remodel in January,” he said, noting it took over 10 months until reopening.

“We wanted to design a very functional space,” Dahlstrom said. There is more open space and flexibility to move the big green pieces in and out, he said. There is both agricultural and construction equipment (which is yellow) on display.

The project also to led to emphasizing more digital and video material (rather than static printed exhibits), with interactive kiosks at a number of Deere products.

A video wall at the overhauled John Deere Pavilion (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“Different people consume information in different ways,” Dahlstrom said. With the All-Wheel Drive tractor, for example, before they had two panels of information and photos, and now the touch-screen kiosk has many more photos and more content that can be added to later, he said.

Next year, for the pavilion’s 25th anniversary, there will be a large bank of video monitors added. “What’s really exciting is, whenever John Deere produces new content around the world, we’ll be pulling from that,” Dahlstrom said. Wherever Deere is at different product shows, they can livestream those events to the pavilion.

Neil Dahlstrom (on an exclusive Dec. 10 tour of the pavilion) is the former Deere archivist and current branded properties and heritage manager (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“The driver for the remodel was to reflect what John Deere is; what we do in the community; the types of equipment we build; who our employees are; the impact we have around the world,” he said.

The pavilion hosted the FIRST Lego League competition with area students last weekend. “By hosting events, you can inspire other people and expose them to things that they wouldn’t see before. We’ve got a great space and we want the community to use it.”

Highlighting Deere’s new and vintage equipment

They still showcase a mix of modern and historic Deere equipment, Dahlstrom said.

“Instead of coming in and seeing a combine every single time, like you did in the past, now you may see a sprayer; a 9RX tractor. You may see a combine,” he said. “If you only visit every three to six months, you may see something different. That means the mix is going to change between brand-new equipment and vintage equipment. We certainly want to showcase the local manufacturers – equipment that was made in Moline and East Moline.”

A big hammer highlights a section of the new pavilion (photo by Jonathan Turner).

What’s most exciting about the interactive exhibits to Dahlstrom is the surprises for people, including a room in one corner that has a new touch-screen feature on big display walls.

The pavilion (open free to the public) gets upward of 200,000 visitors a year, which made it hard to be closed for so long. “We’re excited to reopen,” Dahlstrom said, adding that Deere hasn’t even announced that they’re open.

“It’s important for us to be free because we want to be accessible,” he said. “Whether you’re visiting from out of town, you’re here on business, you’re an employee; you’re a resident – it’s really important to be accessible.”

There were employees visiting from Mexico Thursday, and Dahlstrom said that’s exciting, because Deere gets to learn from their experiences, and learn what they’re excited about.

An interactive step game in the new pavilion.

There’s a fun new interactive exhibit next to the huge Deere sprayer, where visitors can step on symbols on the floor that represent weeds and pests, and how the company uses spray and pesticide technology. Computerized cameras can detect the difference between weeds and plants. “We’re trying to introduce information in different ways,” Dahlstrom said.

The pavilion is lit up at night, so people can see inside. “One of my favorite pieces is this big hammer here, which has LED backlighting,” he said. “It’s really vibrant from outside, and it really represents where John Deere is.”

Meeting Deere customers

One of Dahlstrom’s favorite new exhibits is called “Building for Generations,” an enclosed area where you can meet several Deere customers, see how they use technology (as in farming and construction), and how Deere’s machines and technology are connected.

A touch-screen “Building for Generations” room.

“We wanted to visually do this in a different way,” he said, “to showcase our equipment and our customers. There are actually four different experiences.”

Another video component on the facing wall is to drive people to positive action on environmental issues, to be inspired, Dahlstrom said. “This is intended to talk about how we’re all connected and how we can all take action to build a better world for everybody.”

A video wall highlights how four types of Deere customers use technology.

“We just want to inspire people to be the best versions of themselves,” he said. Another new exhibit to come will highlight Deere’s involvement in supporting community causes.

Another wall (in a different section of the pavilion) has five video monitors, that can play videos together or separately.

A vintage (restored to a sheen) Deere All-Wheel Drive tractor dates from 1918, the first one built in East Moline. The kiosks has historic photos from its production, with a prototype, testing in North and South Dakota. Deere bought the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company (one of the leaders in tractor manufacturing) that same year.

A 1918 Deere tractor (with accompanying interactive kiosk) reflects Christmas colors (photo by Jonathan Turner).

Four tall columns display big photos, on both sides of the window, that reflect Deere’s core values – integrity, quality, innovation and commitment. “We want people to be looking up and down. We have floor graphics, testimonials.”

Tall columns reflect Deere’s core company values (photo by Jonathan Turner).

Another vintage piece is a 1947 Deere Model 55 combine, a self-propelled combine. “It was brand-new technology; it made you more productive and efficient,” Dahlstrom said. “Each one of these machines is an evolution of that, a step further.”

“They were state-of-the-art technology at the time,” he said, noting an accompanying kiosk includes a video with the combine from the late ‘40s.

A collection of hats

Another eye-catching exhibit is a display case of 30 Deere-related hats. A touch screen lets you choose any one to learn about each one, including a Deere snowmobile helmet (the company made snowmobiles from 1973 to 1983).

Playing off the company tag line (“Nothing Runs Like a Deere”), is a “We Run” display of 30 different Deere hats, including a snowmobile helmet from the ’70s.

“You can choose any one of these hats, so if I want to look at Living Lands & Waters, I can watch a video from Chad Pregracke,” Dahlstrom said. “This is a way to feature people doing amazing things in our community, and we’re really excited about that, because everyone’s got a different story. It’s not always what John Deere is talking about, but what our employees or customers are talking about.”

There are other hats waiting in the wings, so the pavilion also will rotate what hats are displayed, he said. Of course, many of the hats are available for sale at the John Deere Store next door.

The 30 stories are mainly of organizations the company supports, or that employees or customers support. Nearby yellow seats are from John Deere Gators, used at the John Deere Classic (the annual PGA Tour golf tournament).

Near the River Drive side entrance is a fitting Christmas-themed piece – a red sleigh that Deere made in 1909 (which visitors can’t sit on). The company used to make sleighs, buggys and wagons about 25 years.”

A 1909 sleigh made by John Deere, to be displayed through this winter (photo by Jonathan Turner).

He’s amazed that the sleigh and the 1918 tractor were only nine years apart.

“To me, it’s the same purpose as a John Deere Gator,” Dahlstrom said. “You went and fed the animals; you collected firewood; you did all your chores around the farmstead.”

The John Deere Pavilion is open 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Deere’s branded visitor properties include the John Deere Historic Site in Grand Detour, Ill., and the Tractor & Engine Museum in Waterloo, Iowa. For more information, click HERE.