Can The Rock Island District Be Saved By The City?
The District used to be the place to go in town. It was the place where the party would happen every weekend. It was the place where festivals and concerts took place that created memories that are still talked about today.
However, The District is now a shell of what it was. The city of Rock Island is trying to change that and bring life to all of the downtown area with a newly created Rock Island Downtown Alliance.
The District For Somebody New To The Quad Cities
I still remember when I first moved to the Quad Cities 4 years ago looking for a place to eat on a Sunday afternoon. I did a map search for bars/restaurants. That is when I found this big section with all sorts of establishments. Plus no roads with traffic on them so people could walk around from place to place. I'll cross the bridge for that.
Well, you can imagine my disappointment when I rolled up to a ghost town. The next day asking around the Rock & Roll Mansion I found out that The District was basically only open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night from 9ish-3am. This is problem number one. Businesses can't survive on drunken late-night drinks.
Of course, I wasn't the only person there on that chilly April day. The panhandlers asking for money still came out even with nobody else around. This is problem number two.
As time went by I quickly learned of the violence, thefts, and other crime that took place in The District. This is problem number 3. People can find plenty of other areas to have a good time without the threat of getting shanked.
Now, here we sit 4 years later in April of 2023 and numerous businesses (Daquari Factory, Blue Cat Brewing, etc.) have closed or moved to greener pastures. This is problem number 4. The established businesses are throwing up their arms and leaving. But who can blame them with the lack of customers and the constant threat of crime.
Can The City Fix All These Problems In The District
They are going to try. The city council approved board members for the newly created Rock Island Downtown Alliance who were appointed by Mayor Mike Thoms.
"The RIDA Board of Directors is a great, enthusiastic group of individuals that represent the makeup of the SSA District with diversity in many areas such as small and large businesses, building owners, and residents," Thoms said. "This group of professionals is what the city needs to move the downtown vision forward."
“This group has everything you want and need in a Board – diverse perspectives, areas of expertise, circles of influence and passion for the cause,” said Jack Cullen, Director, Downtown Rock Island. “On top of that, they collectively live, work, play, eat and shop in downtown Rock Island, so they know the opportunities and challenges we have in front of us. I’m eager to apply their leadership and positive, winning attitude to revitalizing downtown.”
Director Cullen said it best. "challenges we have in front of us". As mentioned already, there are a lot of challenges. And there is not one easy solution. I'm not going to sit here and say I have all the answers. I think I've laid out the problems above though.
Start with cleaning up crime. Then attract more businesses that aren't just open at midnight. Not easy, but those are the simple answers to start. Some plans are in place already including the $276,000 grant given to clean up "The Alley" on 2nd Ave.
And these are the people tasked to do it:
- DeAnna Freeman-Foster | Owner, Big T Wear Big & Tall Clothing (Business owner)
- Raja Krishnamurthy | Information Technology Executive, Royal Neighbors of America (Business & Property owner)
- Steven Ratcliff | Owner, Bent River Brewing Company (Business & Property owner)
- Greg Stecker | Manager, Stecker Graphics (Business & Property owner)
- Brett Hitchcock | Executive Vice President, Circa ‘21 Dinner Playhouse and The Speakeasy (Business & Property owner)
- Arron Sutherland | President/Chief Executive Officer, Illinois Casualty Company (Business & Property owner)
- Brandy VandeWalle | Owner, Skeleton Key Art & Antiques (Resident, Business & Property owner)
- Nicole Watson-Lam | Owner, Ms. BriMani’s Hair and Beauty Supply & The Urban Reserve Luxury Rooftop Events (Business & Property owner)
- John Chow | Executive Director, Rock Island Housing Authority; CEO, Community Home Partners (Nonprofit leader and Business & Property owner)
- Benjamin Fawks | Owner, Rozz-Tox (Resident & Business owner)
- Erica Williams | Resident, DuMarche Townhomes (Resident & Property owner)
- Amanda Wood | Development Manager, Russell/Rock Island Investors (Business & Property owner)
Good luck to all of you. The Quad Cities truly does hope you can turn it around. Which by the way, is problem number five. You will not only need to do it but then rebuild the trust of people from every city in the QCA to give it another try. That could be the hardest task of all.