She’s only been at it nine months, but high energy is prevalent across central Davenport’s Hilltop Campus Village (HCV). Executive Director Molly Otting Carlson replaced chamber executive and economic development leader Scott Tunnicliff, who retired after leading the Main Street Iowa program the past 12 years. Ms. Carlson knew she had another “decade in her […]
- Unparalleled business coverage of the Iowa City / Cedar Rapids corridor.
- Immediate access to subscriber-only content on our website.
- 52 issues per year delivered digitally, in print or both.
- Support locally owned and operated journalism.
She’s only been at it nine months, but high energy is prevalent across central Davenport’s Hilltop Campus Village (HCV).
Executive Director Molly Otting Carlson replaced chamber executive and economic development leader Scott Tunnicliff, who retired after leading the Main Street Iowa program the past 12 years.
Ms. Carlson knew she had another “decade in her to do something else” than visitor services which she was focused on in her previous role at Visit Quad Cities, the region’s destination marketing organization.
She was busy there helping create experiences for others. But when the COVID-19 shutdown hampered her abilities to help create Quad Cities experiences, it gave her time to think about tackling something new. Ms. Carlson had been in hospitality and tourism most of her adult life and when the Hilltop’s directorship opened up, she said “it made sense.”
When many passersby think of the Hilltop area, they think of the “retail” on Brady and Harrison streets, and economic development. But the Hilltop’s mission is to “revitalize and restore neighborhoods.”
Ms. Carlson says the retail is important to the next-door residents because they are “part of the tapestry of the neighborhood.”
“If I want a single family to move here, I have to have retail, restaurants, things to do, and walkability,” she said. “Now I can build up all those things only – and not worry about residents – but why wouldn’t you do them simultaneously, ‘cause that’s what makes a neighborhood.”
In fact, she also brings the knowledge and resources to help residents improve their homes and can connect them with Davenport city staff and city’s rehab programs available. And if you’d like to tour the central neighborhood or the nearby riverfront, HCV has been gifted 20 bicycles, which are loaned out for free.
She said real estate developers (and the police) are interested in safety and the area’s lighting plan along with concerns about the speed along the one-ways. “Traffic slowing is of interest to us,” she admits.
Ms. Carlson said this does not necessarily mean “two-way streets,” but she keeping a watchful eye on what the City of Davenport will do with the downtown one-ways.
Technically, Brady and Harrison streets also are state highways, “so they’re a different animal,” she said.
Maybe the eventual plan will turn out to be two lanes, leaving room for outdoor seating at a restaurant or flower pots. Hilltop supporters are looking for ways to invite the motorists who drive through each day to stop and visit the Main Street district.
For example, the newly relocated Celebrity Beauty Supply store is planning a fashion show with windows full of live models to bring attention to their clothes, which could help slow down traffic.
The HCV is a member of the Main Street Iowa community and one of its original Urban Commercial Districts.
“It’s many more resources than I expected and they help you with everything from your by-laws to how-you-run internally,” Ms. Carlson said.
In fact, one of the highlights of Main Street Iowa is that the Hilltop can help a retailer get a start with as much as a $100,000 challenge grant.
There are two places and projects that Ms. Carlson’s most proud of during her first year. One is the Deanery, the former home of the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral’s Dean, located at 11th and Main streets. The stately house has been converted into a home for high quality music instruction, performance, and collaborations.
The Deanery staff even helps students find instruments – serving the underserved. At one point, the home had been slated for demolition.
“It’s so gorgeous inside,” Ms. Carlson marvels. “So, to have them open is huge.” She adds that the Deanery feeds right into the Quad City Symphony, the third oldest symphony in the country.
The other success story is Celebrity Beauty Supply, which took over the longtime Greatest Grains store and cafe space at 16th and Harrison streets, operated by the Mayfield family. The new Celebrity store offers beauty supplies and exercise clothes. A smoothie bar and youth center are on the horizon.
Ms. Carlson also believes the Hilltop is the “Coffee Hub” of the Quad Cities with six shops and drive-throughs. She’s utilizing a St. Ambrose University sophomore as an intern, and also will be putting her on the Hilltop’s board of directors. “There are 5,000 students between Ambrose & Palmer and we’re not hearing their voices.”
Twelve people already serve on the board, but she’d love to recruit a Realtor and a CPA to join them.
Refreshing Hilltop’s “branding” is next on Carlson’s agenda including a possible new name and color changes. “We want to build our neighborhood from the inside, out, and we want visitors to know they’re in the Hilltop neighborhood when they’re here.”
While there is new signage, she wonders where are the flower planters, outdoor seating? Where does the Hilltop stop and end? It’s the gateway to downtown and she wants it to have a better identity.
Larger projects also are her intent such as improving the safety of her campus so people can safely walk from Palmer College of Chiropractic to nearby Rock’s Anchor Grill. But she also wants the small things such as better garbage cans for both residents and businesses.
Ms. Carlson raves about Mr. Tunnicliff’s institutional knowledge saying “he’s invaluable.” The feeling is mutual.
“She brings a whole new perspective to the Hilltop and it’s a valuable one because she’s focused on where she’s come from,” said Mr. Tunnicliff, who led the agency from its humble beginnings.
The retired HCV director refers to Ms. Carlson’s experience at Visit Quad Cities, recognizing the strategies to attract more people into the Hilltop – and he believes it’s working. He agrees with the need for the “mix of neighborhoods on both sides of the area.” Retail and residents need to support each other, he insists.
Ms. Carlson says she’s having fun at what she’s doing – making a positive difference on several fronts in “her” community.
Where is Hilltop Campus Village?
Hilltop Campus Village’s boundaries are generally described as Lombard Street to the north, Fifth Street to the south, Perry Street to the east and Ripley Street to the west. The Main Street Urban Commercial District encompasses several historic neighborhoods and schools including the campuses of Palmer College of Chiropractic and St. Ambrose University.
Free bike rentals
Want to explore Hilltop Campus Village by bicycle? The Hilltop now has 20 donated bikes that it offers free for visitors to use. Checkout is available from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, at Hilltop’s offices at 122 E. 15th St., Davenport.
HCV annual meeting
Davenport’s Hilltop Campus Village will hold its annual meeting at 8 a.m., Thursday, June 30, at the Rogalski Center on the St. Ambrose University campus. The public is invited.