MLK Park plan gets $219K tourism grant

A proposed MLK Commemorative Park in downtown Davenport is getting a financial boost through a state grant.

On Thursday, Dec. 1, the Enhance Iowa Board announced it awarded a $219,840 Community Attraction and Tourism (CAT) grant to the new park plan. That park, expected to cost a little more than $1 million, could be completed in 2023. At one point, park planners had hoped it would be complete this past summer.

For more on the park plan, go to its Facebook page.

MLK Park
The new MLK Commemorative Park is scheduled to go into the empty lot next to the Friends of MLK group office at 501 Brady St., Davenport. CREDIT FRIENDS OF MLK

The park plan is “being designed as an outdoor venue for residents and tourists, and engage in the region’s rich artistic, creative, cultural and ethnic history. This park project will display 16 educational panels about the history of Davenport as it relates to persons of color,” according to information from Enhance Iowa.

Last January, the Friends of MLK group announced plans for the new park to honor the late civil rights leader, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The MLK Commemorative Park will be built at 501 Brady St., and will be the City of Davenport’s first official memorial for Mr. King.

During the announcement for the park, Ryan Saddler, CEO of Friends of MLK, said he sees the park as a “celebration spot” to honor Mr. King and the many Quad Cities pioneers who helped the civil rights movement.

“The vision for an MLK memorial began in 2014 with a City of Davenport Task Force,” Mr. Saddler said at the time in a news release. “It is our hope that all Davenport residents and Quad Citizens will see this park as an opportunity to gather and honor the life and legacy of Dr. King. This park is our reminder of the fight for equity and justice that has made America what it is today.”

Mr. Saddler added that he hopes the park will feature:

  • History panels that will have various themes, such as civil rights history, local pioneers of civil rights and hispanic heritage themes.
  • A stage to host concerts and speakers.
  • Room for vendors.

He also said that it’s important that the new park be located on this site because of its link to local history. The property – located off Brady Street – was once the location of a mixed-race restaurant, entertainment, and rooming houses from at least the 1880s to the 1940s. Also, it could be the location of the Blue Bird Tavern, a legendary hot jazz and dance spot in the Black part of town, Mr. Saddler said. Legend has it that young talent such as Bix Beiderbecke also performed here after hours.

“This park will provide Davenport residents with a place to gather, celebrate, remember and honor the legacy of someone who fought for the freedom of many,” Davenport Mayor Mike Matson said in the January news release.

The Enhance Iowa Program provides financial incentives to communities for the construction of recreational, cultural, educational or entertainment facilities to enhance the quality of life in Iowa. To date, more than $33.5 million in CAT grants have been awarded by the board. 

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