Arts Alley Grant will help Rock Island tourism rock

With more than a half-million grant dollars and donations, the City of Rock Island is ready to revitalize its 28-year-old Arts Alley with a major facelift.

A key piece of that funding, an Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) grant totaling $267,181, was announced by city leaders and others at a press conference Tuesday, May 24, in the block-long public alleyway.

The City of Rock Island, along with the Rouse Foundation, Quad City Arts, Rock Island Arts Guild, Day Foundation, and Community Foundation had previously agreed to match the grant with another $267,000. The total budget for the project is estimated at $535,000. That match was necessary to win the critical state funding. 

The area known as Arts Alley is where there once stood an old, dilapidated building in downtown Rock Island on Second Street. The city tore it down and, in 1994, the space became Arts Alley, a community-event space at 1719 Second St., with a view of the river one block away.

Today, the Alley’s “mission” is to become a tourist attraction and regional destination for locals, in essence, selling the city, leaders say.

“Arts Alley is an underutilized space, and this funding will allow us to turn it into a vibrant urban art gallery and an event venue,” said Downtown Rock Island Director Jack Cullen of the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce. The goal is to make a family-friendly destination for Quad Citians and visitors.

The rework also is also expected to revitalize the rest of downtown.

Quad City Arts Executive Director Kevin Maynard said the facelift will have a domino effect on other revitalizations. “It will boost civic pride while increasing foot traffic to neighboring businesses which, in turn, attracts new businesses and more community events,” he said.

In addition to money for infrastructure, Mr. Maynard said, the funding “will create new signage, and just as importantly, also pay the artists and for supplies needed to create the murals and sculptures. Every space that is concrete will have a mural or art on it.”

“This money will also help create some climate-controlled, rentable vendor stalls for winter holiday times,” Mr. Cullen added. “This will allow artists to sell their goods and test the market in downtown Rock Island.”

Proposed additions to Arts Alley also include ornate signage, lighting, interactive art installations, spaces for live performances and film screenings, landscaping, as well as new infrastructure. 

Mr. Cullen notes that applications for this grant were “extremely competitive” and there was competition from much bigger entities and metropolitan cities. 

Dave Herrell, the president and CEO of Visit Quad Cities, called the grant “a win for Rock Island, the region and the arts community that is so critically important to our destination efforts.” 

Mr. Maynard noted that “68% of tourism is driven by the arts. Tourists spend twice as much as locals.”   

After final review and approval by the Rock Island City Council, The Arts Alley project is expected to begin this fall and finish in 2023.  Mr. Cullen says the bottom line is “we want people to be excited about this space.” 

A half-million dollars buys a lot of excitement. The planning process now is underway and community members are encouraged to check out the digital artist renderings for Arts Alley. You can offer your input on the draft plans here

In addition to Arts Alley, Downtown Rock Island – a placemaking initiative between the city and the chamber, has applied for another grant to reimagine the area from the river to Seventh Avenue and from the Centennial bridge to the Arsenal bridge — this one for $3 million. 

It could come from another state program. The hope is to redesign and reconstruct downtown’s Great River pedestrian mall, add a new dog park at 21st Street and Third Avenue, as well as create a better connection between the river and downtown businesses. Also planned are general street-scaping improvements such as decorative lighting, new lamp poles, way-finding signs for businesses and special holiday lighting.

Get the free QCBJ email newsletter

Stay up-to-date with the people, companies and issues that impact business in the  Quad Cities area.