As it has since its humble beginnings, Mercado on Fifth continues to have a positive impact on its corner of the world. Located on the edge of Moline’s Floreciente neighborhood, the five-year-old Mercado is transforming a former auto parts store into a flexible space for the Mercado and community alike.
The circa 1920s building borders the greenspace and 5th Avenue where Mercado hosts its popular Friday night open-air marketplace. The nearly $1 million renovation project will convert the former Car Shop at 423 12th St. into a new community center to be used for Mercado’s own activities, vendor events, educational workshops, community festivities and private rentals. Since it began, Mercado’s weekly outdoor markets have grown from about 300 visitors per night to weekly crowds of nearly 2,000 this year.
Maria Ontiveros, Mercado’s president, said the new indoor space will allow the non-profit to expand its vendor opportunities year-round. “This is for event-based programming,” said Ontiveros. “Any vendor who comes down here has to be mobile.” There will be no permanent vendors inside the center, she added.
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, Mercado’s staff – including Ontiveros and Anamaria Rocha, its director – unveiled a new brightly-colored sign spelling out Mercado.
The letters are similar to the giant monumental letters found all over Mexico with their symbolic designs representative of Latino culture and traditions, Rocha said. “Similarly, the giant letters at Mercado on Fifth were designed, fabricated and exported from Mexico because we wanted to showcase this artform authentically and highlight our local Latino community. Each letter has a different symbolic meaning that includes references to the Floreciente neighborhood, Mexican culture and the Mexican state of Guanajuanto where Moline’s sister city, Salvatierra, is located. and where a large percentage of the Latino community in the Floreciente Neighborhood were from originally.”
Mercado’s new community center became a reality, in part, when it received a $500,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity’s Office of Minority Empowerment. That grant helped Mercado secure a $100,000 Transformation Grant in 2019 from the Quad Cities Community Foundation. As part of the matching funds for the foundation’s grant, Mercado received in-kind services and additional grants including: Moline Foundation, Scott County Regional Authority and Community Development Block Grant from the City of Moline.
“This is going to be a 365-day-a-year opportunity for Mercado programming and an extension of its work,” said Maria’s father, Chris Ontiveros, who is the project manager. “We don’t know what the future holds. But we do know we have organic growth and we can morph this space into whatever direction the business community and neighbors take us.”
The building is owned by West Gateway Partners, the real estate/development company of Group O Founder Bob Ontiveros, who with his granddaughter Maria co-founded the Mercado in 2016. While it will be the first permanent fixture for Mercado, the building adds to the other Floreciente redevelopment projects led Bob Ontiveros and Gateway Partners including the new Community Health Care clinic and refurbished Boys & Girls Club Teen Center as well as the renovation of a Project Now building that houses the Greater Quad Cities Hispanic Chamber.
With several months of construction and renovations ahead, the future community center is beginning to show off some of its amenities including a spacious outdoor patio encircled by a large stone retaining wall. Built above the below-grade patio, a new brick pathway will serve as a dedicated food truck lane complete with electricity hook-ups for food truck vendors.
“The new center will add capacity to our current summer events and we won’t have to block off the street for smaller gatherings,” Maria Ontiveros said. But 5th Avenue still will be closed off during Mercado.
Construction on the 6,300-square-foot building began in June and has created jobs for several locally-owned – including Hispanic-owned – companies. Among the contractors are: Ruben Guzman (masonry), Heritage Landscape, J.L. Brady, Pizano Electric, QC Fixit, QC Plumbing and Valley Construction. The project’s architect and engineer are Streamline Architects and J & M Engineering. The new sidewalks will get a boost from student interns in Black Hawk college’s highway construction class. Group O, Milan, has provided a variety of logistical support for the building project.
Chris Ontiveros said the building was the longtime home to The Car Shop, which sold high-performance auto parts nationwide. The interior demolition work has exposed giant bridge trusses bearing the Clinton Bridge Works name that have been painted a bright royal blue. Inside the cavernous building, crews will install a catering kitchen, a bar, indoor restrooms, a stage that can double as a Kid’s Zone as well as heated concrete floors. They also will be cutting out windows and doors out of the thick concrete walls.
Rocha, who joined Mercado as director earlier this year, still is developing plans for the community center’s use. “Right now, it’s like a blank canvas,” she said. “But we definitely want to create our own programming during the week to bring people down here.” She envisions regular Food Truck Days attracting visitors to Floreciente.
A March 2022 opening is expected and the first event booked is in April for an indoor performance by Jarabe Mexicano in a partnership between the Mercado and Quad City Arts.
Story by The Quad Cities Chamber