Jeff Condit intimately remembers the years leading up to the opening of then-The MARK of the Quad Cities (today’s Vibrant Arena at The MARK) 30 years ago at 1201 River Drive, Moline.
“The MARK was built at a time when Moline was coming out of the ‘80s farm crisis,” Condit (who was a Moline alderman at the time of the 1991 groundbreaking) said recently.
He credited Moline-based Deere & Company for donating its property on River Drive, on which the 12,000-seat arena was built.
“It was a tremendous opportunity for the city, not without controversy and risk, but certainly one that couldn’t be passed up,” said Condit, who served on the City Council from 1991 to 1995.
“Deere wanted to help, and they made us an offer we really couldn’t refuse. The difficulty was establishing a TIF district, which of course has pros and cons, but we needed some start-up capital to make some things happen, and it was a tough decision at the time, given the economic woes we were experiencing,” he said.
The name “The MARK” (chosen with the help of a consultant) was a simple one, Condit said, “but it was easy, impossible to forget, and even now, it’s The MARK to me, despite its other name changes.”
He said the opening night concert, May 28, 1993, by then-52-year-old superstar Neil Diamond was dazzling.
“It felt like the big time! But that’s me, a small-town boy,” Condit said of the show in the round. “We had great seats, but then every seat in the house is good. It was spectacular. Vegas-like. Electric. The concert was spectacular. Everyone was in awe. It was a new era for Moline and entertainment in the QCs.”
“I’ve attended dozens of concerts and events over the years, from basketball, to concerts, to conventions, to speakers, to football, to hockey, to dinners, to graduations, to festivals, to Disney, to monster trucks, etc.,” Condit said. “Nothing will ever beat Neil Diamond, though. I’m still a fan, and enjoy tribute groups that imitate him, Denny Diamond from Rockford being one of my favorites.
“Other concerts of note for me have included: Natalie Cole, Chicago, Styx, REO, Barry Manilow and of course, Dan Fogelberg. I’ll never forget Dan Fogelberg!” he said. “I haven’t attended as many concerts of late, though but it’s nice to see it still flourishing.”
“The MARK has made its Mark. It always was the Mark and always will be the Mark,” he added. “And it wouldn’t have happened without Deere & Company.”
“I remember going to the topping off ceremony with my two oldest kids and our neighbor kids. It was so huge. My kids and neighbor kids were in awe,” Condit recalled. “I remember thinking then and still do today, this building will outlast me. It was built like an amazon, and today it still feels as new inside as the day it opened.”
To see a 47-second clip from that first concert, click HERE.
There from the start
Deb Henson and Nancy Mulcahey were among the dozens of special guests who attended an invitation-only reception in the arena Conference Center, Friday, May 19, 2023, in advance of the magician Mike Super’s show.
Henson, executive assistant to the first executive director, Steve Hyman, started working in 1990 at a Deere building across the street (where the Deere Pavilion is today), to handle planning and box office sales for The MARK opening. She also was secretary to the Illinois Quad City Civic Center Authority board (which governs the facility), scheduling construction meetings.
“I couldn’t believe it; I kept saying, ‘Is this really Moline, Illinois?” Henson said of the first concert (she attended both nights). “It was just unbelievable. So many people said, ‘We don’t need it. We’ll never be able to support it. Why are we doing this?’”
The MARK found people would come from Chicago to see shows, she said. Henson worked for the arena until 2006.
“It’s exceeded our wildest dreams,” she said. “Whoever thought you’d see Neil Diamond? And whoever thought you’d see Paul McCartney? We’ve had some fantastic shows. It’s really been fun. Reba is one of the best; I loved Bette Midler. Cher, I really enjoyed her as well.”
Henson’s husband Jack was on the original construction crew for the building.
“They keep on top of it; you got to have a maintenance crew that takes care of it,” he said. “I know Steve did. When there was a dent in the wall, he got it fixed right away. People don’t want to come into a dump; they want someplace nice.”
Nancy Mulcahey was economic development manager for the city from 1990 to 2003.
“It’s great to see this so successful,” she said of the arena, noting her parents came from Chicago to go to the first Neil Diamond show.
“I just remember standing up and singing and dancing around the whole time,” Mulcahey said. “There was just so much excitement in the air. It was unbelievable.”
“We were excited just to finally have it happen,” she said. “Everything about The MARK was done really well.”
“I always say Moline, as a city, we had these great plans and the city always did them – the whole downtown plan,” Mulcahey said. “We had really good leadership, consultants and Deere. We had the right partners to make it happen.”
Her husband Paul Mulcahey was the Rock Island County Board chairman at the time the $36-million arena was built (with help of a $20-million state grant and $8 million from Moline), and he’s served on the Civic Center Authority board for the past 16 years.
“We’ve had good leadership, a good board, and the whole staff are the best,” he said. “From Scott all the way down – a professional staff, they’re good. They know what they’re doing, and we make money. A lot of ‘em don’t.”
“This building is as nice today as the day we built it,” Paul said.
A dazzling Diamond
The two nights of the dazzling Diamond have remained the top-selling shows at the arena in its 30-year history – drawing 11,726 fans the first night and 11,562 the second. Diamond returned to Moline three years later (July 10, 1996) and has the fourth biggest audience total for the arena, at 11,532. He also performed here Oct. 24, 2001.
In 2023, the arena is still hosting some of the biggest and most exciting events on tour, it said in a release this week.
Coming off its most successful year ever (a $2-million profit in the 2022-23 fiscal year), Vibrant Arena at The MARK hosted Santana, Chicago, Snoop Dogg, Frankie Valli, Slipknot, Lynyrd Skynyrd, REO Speedwagon & Styx, Thomas Rhett, Luis Coronel, Carrie Underwood, Bert Kreischer, Judas Priest, Old Dominion and more. Kenny Chesney made his eighth visit to the building, and Reba McEntire became the “Queen of Moline” when she made her ninth stop at the arena on March 18, 2023.
Local 4 News spoke to other QC residents to get their impressions of The MARK’s unforgettable opening. Here’s what they said:
“I talked to hundreds of celebrities during the years I was an entertainment reporter. Neil Diamond’s appearance at the great new facility in Moline was one of the most hotly anticipated interviews I ever had.
“He seemed genuinely excited about being the opening act at the new venue. Because I practically grew up on his music, I was delighted to talk with him — I remember I thanked him for ‘Tap Root Manuscript,’ my favorite Neil Diamond album.
“I was at the concert, too, and I saw him again some years later.
“Thirty years ago, there was a charge of excitement for Diamond, for the sparkling new venue that changed the face of the Quad Cities, and for being part of what everyone there knew was a moment in entertainment history.
“Toward the end of our phone interview, he called me ‘dear.’ From then on, when I had a bad day at work, my friend and colleague would say, ‘Yes, but Neil Diamond called you ‘dear.’ “
“Yes, he did. To this day, I remember that every time I hear his music.”
Cook added of the arena: “It changed the entire fabric of the Quad Cities for the better. The Quad Cities was exposed to and embraced more well-known performers and shows, plus the wild and woolly experiences like the big truck shows. We have never been the same.
“And 30 years ago, who would ever have dreamed that Paul McCartney, one of the most famous musicians in the world, would come to Moline, Illinois?”
“I attended (and photographed) the first night of the opening of The MARK of the Quad Cities. As a staff photographer for The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus, our job was to try and capture the excitement before the show and to try and present to our readers what went on inside the brand-new facility.
“Although I liked a couple songs Neil Diamond had which received airplay, I was not much of a fan. I preferred rock ‘n blues over Neil’s softer style. But, from what I saw of the show, he did a fantastic job introducing the Quad Cities to this marvelous facility. A great showman who delivered the goods!
“Quite the place! It was a well thought-out facility (I have attended concerts from Chicago to Des Moines since high school and some are definitely better than others). The ‘in the round’ concert made every seat a winner! No behind the stage seating for the grand opening. The behind the scenes back rooms (the catacombs) are well designed and quite functional. Kudos to the architects.
“For a staffer with a daily newspaper, we knew we would be spending a lot of time at The MARK Now people no longer had to drive to Peoria, Iowa City, Cedar Rapids/Cedar Falls or Chicago to take in concerts and other auditorium-based events. Finally!!
“Other events at The MARK: I covered a huge number of events at the facility. Concerts, business shows, lectures, monster trucks, hockey, basketball, wedding receptions, prom events, etc. If it occurred at The MARK, I probably was there covering the event.
“I always called it The MARK, and everyone knew exactly what you were referring to. Some of the names did not roll off the tongue like The MARK, so, it seems to have stuck.”
“I was at the first Neil Diamond show. I was invited by his percussionist, King Errison. Interesting story…he called me several weeks prior, and I thought he was playing at a bar in Moline. He said, ‘I am playing with a guy named Neil.’ LOL! I had no idea, until he sent me vouchers what was going on.”
“King Errison, he is still a percussionist. I knew him from playing his music on KALA! His genre as a solo artist was mainly new world or international. He is very talented as an individual performer. His invitation to come see him perform was very kind, and I had no idea he was with Neil Diamond.
“One reaction I had from that first show, which featured Neil and the band on a roulette turntable was that it was mentioned on stage that many band members were also featured on many studio recordings, too. I remember it well. The place was packed.
“I have seen a lot of great shows there, and attended many sports events and kids shows with the family, including the Wiggles and several Disney On Ice performances. I would have to say that one of my favorite shows there was Boston, especially when they broke into a couple of bluesy improvised pieces. What a surprise!”
Connie Corcoran Wilson
“I was a Neil Diamond fan, but not completely cuckoo about him. I did, just a short time afterwards, go to see him again in Minneapolis before flying out for a trip to Europe, and I appreciated the design of The MARK when I was stuck behind a giant post at that venue. I have continued to refer to the venue as The MARK since the beginning, and I will probably continue to call it The MARK no matter who owns the naming rights. I’ve been to numerous shows at The MARK since the opening night, including Paul McCartney.
“I remember seeing such acts as Bryan Ferry, Jackson Browne, Natalie Cole, Diana Ross, and, of course, Neil Diamond. And did I mention my great seats when Taylor Swift hit town in 2010? My daughter was working for Ms. Swift at the time and got me primo seats for the night.”
“The opening night was a Friday and I was working security at the entrance. The MARK had both their own security team and they had contracted out with another company. The vast majority were correctional officers from East Moline. I always call it The MARK also, but as a legislator have to refer to Vibrant Arena as we are trying to help them fund an outdoor venue.”
“My favorite moments were seeing Toby Keith sing ‘American Anthem’ before it was even released and seeing women crying in the audience when a young Blake Shelton sang ‘Baby’ as the opening act for Kenny Chesney and Montgomery Gentry.”
“The MARK on Neil Diamond’s second night was vibrant. People were so excited. We had nosebleed seats at the top row, but still could see and hear everything. When he came out, the audience lit up like a firecracker. It was so exciting. The crowd loved him and we loved every moment. I remember standing in a long line to purchase tickets.”
“We were living in Ottumwa at the time, and were invited to come with an Ottumwa couple who had seats in a box, because they knew we were Quad Citians. I didn’t think I was a Neil Diamond fan, but he put on a really great show, and as the night went on, I realized how many of his songs I had known and liked.
“Over the years we haven’t gone to many shows, but the ones I remember are Frank Sinatra’s last tour (pretty sad), James Taylor (great show), and going to see Ringling Brothers every single year (we really miss that). I thought The MARK was a pretty silly name when originally chosen, but it stuck, and we always called it The MARK, no matter what sign was on the building.
“I attended the first night. I was and am a Neil Diamond fan and tried unsuccessfully to obtain tickets. Along came a friend and school board colleague who knew my frustration and trying to bolster a relatively recent widow, managed to get two tickets for me. I was more than elated to be one of the first to see a fan favorite of mine and in this new arena.
“Bette Midler, Cher, Lily Tomlin (to a very small crowd), Josh Groban, Paul McCartney, Neil Diamond a second time, and Holiday Pops concerts are some of my favorites.
“I continue to call it The MARK and for me it will always be The MARK. I am happy that it is part of the new name. I have always thought it to be a great asset to our community and now is used for many graduations. I have been there for weddings, celebrations of life, fundraisers, and many meetings. I have also attended the rodeo, circus, and one football game. I love the variety of events and the opportunities it provides.”
“I was working at the John Deere Store across from The MARK (in October 2001) and it wasn’t unusual for those appearing at the arena to stop over. There was always a celebrity sighting during those events. One day, Neil Diamond was in town. I was 17 and wasn’t hip to the gospel of Neil (yet) and so I didn’t think much of it. He did come over and do some shopping. My stepmother Brigitte was working at the Pavilion next door and called over and asked me to get an autograph for my grandmother.
“As I was assisting him, I politely asked for the autograph. He signed it and said, ‘You don’t know who I am, do you?’ And I said, ‘No, sir, not really.’ He slowly raised his head, lifted his ball cap and said, ‘I’m Neil Diamond.’ I didn’t need to know who he was because in that moment he was a star. And that night I started listening to Neil Diamond and I’ve been a fan ever since.”
This summer, the arena will host Chris Stapleton (June 1), Cody Johnson, Matchbox 20, and Morgan Wallen. Since opening its doors, Vibrant Arena has hosted 15,783,295 patrons (through March 31, 2023), and on average, the building hosts over 150 events a year and averages over 520,000 guests per year.
Vibrant Arena is also still home to the Quad City Storm and the Quad City Steamwheelers, and proud to host several collegiate and high school graduations including several local high schools, St. Ambrose University, Western Illinois University, Augustana College, Eastern Iowa Community Colleges, and Black Hawk College.
Recently, the building has undergone several updates including conference center, suite and dressing room renovations as well as a new marquee and will be installing a new LED video wall along the staircase up to the main concourse, a new ribbon board inside the arena and upgrading concession stands in the coming year.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of this building and our staff,” arena executive director Scott Mullen said. “Several of them have been here since day one, and they all are key elements to our success.”
The arena is overseen by the Illinois Quad City Civic Center Authority board of directors, currently chaired by Stacey Happ.
“I can remember going to my first concert at The MARK, and now 30 years later taking my kids to their first concerts here,” she said. “I have enjoyed seeing some of the top performing music acts at the arena as well as attending various sporting events and other events geared towards families. Having this arena here in the Quad Cities has been great for our community.”