- Associated Press - Saturday, July 5, 2014

DAVENPORT, Iowa (AP) - On the verge of its centennial, a veteran event planner and concert worker is ready to breathe new life back into the Col Ballroom.

Lee Neece says he will close July 14 on the purchase of the venue along Davenport’s 4th Street - where the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash and Davenport’s own Bix Beiderbecke have performed over its long history.

The Col has been owned and operated by the Quad-Cities Mexican American Organization since 1995.

The Quad-City Times reports (http://bit.ly/1iQ9pXr ) Neece, who has an anonymous backer, would not divulge the price he’s paying for the building. In a June 2012 Quad-City Times story, real estate agents listed the price at $550,000, down from the original asking of $675,000.

Leigh (Macias) Reitz, who has been working as events coordinator at the Col for the past 14 months, will stay on at the job. She said every Saturday night at the Col is booked through the end of the year.

In the past several years, a majority of the Col’s uses have been wedding receptions and Quinceañera, the Hispanic celebration of a 15-year-old girl’s birthday.

Neece said he’s ready to expand the offerings.

For example, a San Diego-based mixed martial arts fight series called Explode is set to book four cards of bouts per year at the Col. Boxing promoter Glamor Productions is planning on four to six cards a year, with the first scheduled July 11.

But Neece said he’s most excited about returning the Col to a concert venue.

“We’re looking at bringing concerts back,” added Neece, who has worked in that industry both on tours and as a lighting rigger at the iWireless Center in Moline. “We’ve got tons of power here, we’ve got the beautiful stage, the acoustics are phenomenal.”

Neece doesn’t want to divulge the names of the acts he’s considering, but he said it would be a variety of music.

Acts he would book, Neece said, would bring larger crowds than bars and nightclubs, but smaller audiences than the area’s larger performance venues.

“There’s plenty of business to go around for everybody,” he said. “I don’t want to compete with the Adler and the RiverCenter, the iWireless. I don’t want to compete with the (Mississippi Valley) fair. I want to bring in mid-range groups that aren’t playing at any of those places.”

Joe Taylor, the president and CEO of the Quad-Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau, said a rejuvenated Col Ballroom will be a “wonderful opportunity” for the community.

“It’s one more venue, an iconic venue, that’s been around in the Quad-Cities for a number of years,” he said. “I think a new owner who is successful in providing some consistent customer service and consistent marketing will make all the difference in the world.”

Neece said he doesn’t plan on one big celebration for the 100th anniversary of the Col, which opened in November 1914, but rather a year’s worth of events.

The Col still would have its share of big band music and dancing. Neece said he saw an one story that called the Col’s 10,000-square-foot dance floor the largest one west of the Mississippi River.

“We talked about redoing the dance floor, but all the dance groups said no,” he said. “It’s finely conditioned. They don’t want the gymnasium floor because your feet won’t shuffle.”

The acoustic cloth along the corner of the ceiling will be replaced, and the ceiling likely will be repainted. He plans to add dressing rooms and a loading dock, but will leave the exterior of the building, which has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1983, alone.

A courtyard just off the dance floor, which has most recently been used a smoking area since indoor tobacco use was banned by the state, also will get a face lift with new benches and trellises, he said.

“It’s all in good time,” he added. “We aren’t going to shut down for six months and give it a face lift. It’ll be a work in progress.”

The roof of the Col, he said, is less than five years old, and the electrical and plumbing systems are up to date. Two air-conditioning units are “fairly new,” he added.

Neece, 39, is a native of LeClaire whose family moved to Colorado halfway through his high school years. There he became involved in theater and concert productions, and he has a resume that includes work on Paul McCartney and Pink Floyd concert tours. He moved back to the Quad-Cities in late 1999 and has worked as a member of concert tech crews at the iWireless Center as well as a private contractor for events on the Rock Island Arsenal. He owns his own business, 4Ever and Ever Weddings and Events.

The Quad-Cities Mexican American Organization had been looking to sell the building for several years, Neece and Reitz said. Reitz, 63, said she was by far the youngest person involved in the group.

Both said they are trying to rise above the problems presented by the location of the Col, 1012 W. 4th St.

One is the availability of parking, which Reitz said has been fixed.

“We’ve got nice neighbors. If we need to use their parking lot, they’ll allow us to,” she said, adding that a security firm is patrolling the lots on event nights.

Another is crime in the neighborhood, including a recent shooting at 3rd and Myrtle streets, several blocks from the Col.

Reitz said it just happened that there was a shooting the same night as an event at the Col. “They can’t even prove any of them were at an event at the Col. Yet you pull up any of the (news) websites and it says, ‘Shooting at Col Ballroom.’ “

Neece said his biggest concern is bringing in quality entertainment that will attract audiences.

“It takes money to make money, it costs money to have quality entertainment come in,” he said. “That’s going to be the biggest challenge.”

The other is the facility’s reputation.

“Everyone believes there was a shooting here, everyone believes there’s no parking down here. Everyone believes the place is 6,000 years old and is falling apart,” he said. “And it’s not.

“When we get people down here and they walk in, it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh,’ ‘I haven’t been in here in forever,’ ‘I can’t believe it looks like this.’ It’s not run-down.”

___

Information from: Quad-City Times, http://www.qctimes.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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