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The inaugural Rock Island Downtown Alliance Board of Directors appointed this week to guide the city center’s rebirth is full of familiar faces and crammed with tireless downtown activists, promoters and cheerleaders. “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, who as director of Downtown Rock Island, will work closely with the RIDA panel of residents, businesses and community leaders. “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,” he added in a Quad Cities Chamber news release. Rock Island Mayor Mike Thoms recommended the panel and the city’s aldermen approved the group on Monday, March 27. "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," the mayor said in the release. "This group of professionals is what the city needs to move the downtown vision forward." In addition to Rock Island City Manager Todd Thompson, who is a permanent ex-officio member of the panel, the other 12 individuals include two downtown residents, three business owners, six property owners and one nonprofit leader. Their job going forward will include developing a strategic framework, work plan and budget for RIDA. Creating the RIDA Board is the latest step in the long effort to launch the place management organization, affiliated with the Quad Cities Chamber, to manage Rock Island’s new downtown Special Service Area (SSA). The terms of the initial members, approved Monday, were staggered thus ensuring that not all their terms will expire at the same time. The appointees, their terms and a sample of their goals, are: Three-year term appointees:
- DeAnna Freeman-Foster – Owner, Big T Wear Big & Tall Clothing. She hopes to focus on improving public perception, building vacancy, and conditions downtown by adding new dining options, handcrafted gifts, and unique retail shops.
- Raja Krishnamurthy – Information technology executive, Royal Neighbors of America. He brings a unique perspective as an immigrant and experience with strategic thinking, project planning and execution, and application of technology for value creation.
- Steven Ratcliff – Owner, Bent River Brewing Company. He would like to be a part of restoring the downtown to its previous level of success by addressing the absence of commerce and the business mix in the downtown.
- Greg Stecker – Manager, Stecker Graphics. He hopes to use his experience and relationships with business owners to grow the downtown and revitalize the community by addressing building and storefront vacancies and vagrancy.
- Brett Hitchcock – Executive vice president, Circa ‘21 Dinner Playhouse and The Speakeasy. He wants to address public perception including a sense of safety as well as business attraction and retention, and vacancies to create a thriving downtown to ensure that families can pass along their businesses to the next generation.
- Arron Sutherland – President/CEO, Illinois Casualty Company. A top driver in the Downtown Rock Island Steering Committee that launched the SSA, he would like to improve a sense of safety downtown, cleanliness, and create a business friendly-environment in the downtown.
- Brandy VandeWalle – Owner, Skeleton Key Art & Antiques. She has first-hand experience with the challenges facing the area including absentee property owners, vagrancy, and unwanted behaviors. She seeks to use her skills to help improve downtown.
- Nicole Watson-Lam – Owner, Ms. BriMani’s Hair and Beauty Supply and The Urban Reserve Luxury Rooftop Events. The vice president of the Downtown Rock Island Steering Committee was an advocate for the SSA and hopes to use it to address concerns such as the business mix, building vacancy and conditions, and public spaces.
- John Chow – Executive director, Rock Island Housing Authority; CEO, Community Home Partners. He has many years of experience with housing development, construction and facilities management and would like to improve building and storefront occupancy, foot traffic, marketing and promotion.
- Benjamin Fawks – Owner, Rozz-Tox. He brings unique experiences with travel, interest in urban environments and communities focusing on functional aesthetics, art, design, and utilitarianism. He would like to focus on public amenities and spaces.
- Erica Williams – Resident, DuMarche Townhomes. As a manager in municipalities for more than 20 years, she brings knowledge of government processes, budgets, citizen communications, enforcement, planning, and unpopular mandates. She would like to improve the cleanliness and building appearances in the downtown.
- Amanda Wood – Development manager, Russell/Rock Island Investors, and a representative of Rock Island Investors, the owners of the new federal building under construction downtown. Her experience in development and accounting will help in evaluating needs for growth, understanding realistic construction costs and timelines, management costs, forecasting and budgeting to meet short- and long-term goals.