Moline Mayor Sangeetha Rayapati used her state of the city address Monday, March 14, to celebrate the strides the 150-year-old city is making toward a “flourishing future” despite the challenges created by COVID-19.
She also celebrated the people, possibilities, progress and partnerships that have and will help Moline to grow as she gave her keynote address at the Spotlight Theatre,1800 Seventh Ave., Moline.
Some 120 attendees – representing business, government and nonprofits as well as Moline residents – also were invited to sample local goods, and visit The Market, A Journey to Joy. The entrepreneurial business is a collection of more than two dozen shops located the level above the refurbished theater in the historic former Scottish Rite Cathedral.
The mayor chose the location, Tory Brecht, Moline’s communications director said, as “a good example of infill development/reuse and its proximity to the Interstate 74 redevelopment corridor which will be one of the largest public-private developments in Moline since the creation of John Deere Commons.”
The transformative riverfront development planned for that corridor also was featured in remarks shared with the crowd by Moline City Administrator Bob Vitas and Alexandra Elias, executive director of Renew Moline, the city’s partner in downtown development.
Ms. Elias, who has been working on reimagining “Moline’s front porch” since she first came to the Quad Cities, talked briefly about creation of a Public Arts Commission, planning for the Mill Street Basin development, two new parks, and a riverfront skatepark and pump track. She acknowledged that those and other ambitious plans for the redevelopment area are “big ideas.” But so, she said, was the new I-74 bridge which celebrated its grand opening on Dec. 1, 2021.
A host of other big ideas also are on the city’s agenda.
For example, Ms. Rayapati said, “We look forward to progress on increasing housing options across the city, passenger train and quiet zone developments, annexation possibilities and a new comprehensive and downtown master plan that will take us confidently into the middle of this century. In all of this work we strive to be a leader in the Quad Cities region.”
Mr. Vitas called the projects featured in Ms. Elias’ presentation “awe-inspiring.” Together with other investments to the city’s infrastructure, including those being financed through the American Rescue Plan Act, Moline will be making $31.2 million in capital investments in the coming year, Mr. Vitas said. That includes 85 projects identified in the city’s Strategic Plan alone.
Priorities for spending those funds, Ms. Rayapati said, include major investments in traditional infrastructure as well as in workforce and economic infrastructure programs to create new or expand existing child care options and to provide a micro-business forgivable loan program. It would help businesses that didn’t qualify for previous rounds of economic aid during the coronavirus pandemic.
In addition, the mayor said, “We have also invested in the people who work for the city and are tasked with making it the place we believe it can be.”
After several years of revolving-door city staff leadership, Ms. Rayapati said Moline has rebuilt its organization and retooled its processes – most recently under Mr. Vitas’ watch.
“By the end of summer we revamped our snow and ice removal plan to balance new city staff in public works with hired contractors to meet our needs,” the mayor said looking back at 2021 accomplishments. “And by the fall, we found interim leadership for long-vacant director positions while continuing the search for permanent staff.”
The city also hired a communications coordinator and began filling open positions in Human Resources and Community & Economic Development. “These steps were crucial in rebuilding and right-sizing the organization, and facilitating improved service delivery for our residents,” Ms. Rayapati said.
Mr. Vitas also celebrated that the city is up to full staffing, and he lauded the quality and dedication of Moline employees. “It’s important to repeat that we have a great staff,” he told the crowd.
Ms. Rayapati also credited community organizations, governments and partners with the city’s gains in the past year. “Moline is strong and in a great position to live up to her potential, but we can’t go it alone. In fact, while the focus on people, possibilities, and progress has been effective, we also need to focus on our partnerships,” Ms. Rayapati said.
“Without quality and effective partnerships with our school district, Renew Moline, Quad Cities Chamber, the Rock Island Arsenal, the TaxSlayer Center, the Moline Housing Authority, and many churches and nonprofits in our community, we could not reach our potential or meet the needs of residents as effectively as we strive to,” she added.
As part of that, the city also amped up its efforts to partner with the community, Ms. Rayapati said. “Eleven months ago, we began holding Listening Posts to hear from community members about what they wanted to see in our city,” she said. Surveys and communities also were employed to discuss economic opportunities and redevelopment ideas.
Moline also has worked to increase and diversify participation on boards and commissions, through the Mayor’s Talent Pool, Ms. Rayapati said. Through it, Moliners are encouraged to submit their resumes and fill out a form expressing their interest in serving the community. Residents are later interviewed to see if there is a good fit for their interest and talents.
“We’re moving beyond a ‘who you know’ approach to community service and opening up this opportunity more broadly,” Ms. Rayapati said. It’s working, she said. “All vacancies on commissions have been filled and we look forward to keeping appointments updated and rotating for the best involvement of our residents.”
City leaders also gave “special attention” to the Moline’s Human Rights Commission (HRC), which has been revived after being disbanded since 2015, Ms. Rayapati said.
“The folks serving on the HRC are already making a difference, using their budget to provide statements of solidarity with our residents of color who have been targets of white supremacist literature on their doorsteps. I encourage Moliners to stand together by picking up a free ‘Hate Has No Home Here’ yard sign at City Hall or the library and engaging with their neighbors to let destructive forces know they are not welcome here,” she said.
The city’s grants and loans programs for business also were instituted and have been well utilized, Ms. Rayapati said.
Moline also worked to improve programming and facilities including adding restrooms to the popular pickleball courts, planning additions to the city’s Riverside Park aquatic center and working to increase staff and expand the award-winning library’s collections.
The city did all that, Ms. Rayapati said, while maintaining a balanced budget “that, despite its expansive reach, delivers a small amount of tax relief for residents.” For the owner of a $100,000 home, that amounts to about a $15 savings in property tax.
As the year progresses, Moline also is planning a big anniversary party, and the public is invited, the mayor said.
“As we look to that future with hope and expectation, we invite you to celebrate our past in our Moline 150 celebrations this summer,” Ms. Rayapati said. “August 29 will mark 150 years of our incorporation as a city and a multi-day celebration will energize the end of our summer and infuse downtown with economic activity.”