RI downtown revitalization steps closer to reality

    A $7 million Downtown Rock Island revitalization plan took a major step forward Monday after the city’s aldermen committed $2.5 million in federal COVID-19 rescue funds to help make it happen.

    The money the Rock Island City Council agreed to spend on the project will come from the $26.5 million the city received from the federal government’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. The $2.5 million approved Monday along with $1.5 million in tax increment financing (TIF) funds already earmarked for downtown infrastructure improvements will be used to help capture a grant from the State of Illinois Rebuild Downtowns & Main Streets Capital Grant Program.

    That program, which was included in the state’s 2022 fiscal year budget, will award $50 million in matching funds ranging from $500,000 to $3 million to 30 projects in the state, according to the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity (DCEO) website. Applications are being accepted through Jan. 10, 2022.

    “I am excited the plans to rejuvenate the downtown are underway,” Mayor Mike Thoms said in a news release issued by the Quad Cities Chamber. “We can’t miss an opportunity to use ARPA funds to leverage a state grant that would almost double the investment into our downtown. It is a well-thought-out plan, and we have had a lot of public input on the downtown. This project fits that vision and we need to seize this opportunity.”

    Whether or not the state grant is awarded, Rock Island will spend the $4 million in ARPA and TIF funds downtown, the chamber said.

    The city contracted with the Quad Cities Chamber in 2021 to provide downtown place management services. Since then, Jack Cullen, director of Downtown Rock Island for the chamber, has been meeting with business and property owners, the Downtown Rock Island Steering Committee and Streamline Architects to envision the project and its full potential. 

    The improvements also were called for by members of the public who participated in crafting the city’s Downtown Revitalization Plan.

    “Not only will this project help accelerate the recovery of businesses hit hard by the pandemic, but we believe it will lead to more private investment and truly kickstart the revitalization of Downtown Rock Island,” Mr. Cullen said. “Rock Islanders care deeply about their downtown, and this project has what it takes to create the vibrant sense of place our community is craving and attract visitors, too.”

    If Rock Island wins the DCEO grant, $7 million in streetscaping and placemaking improvements would begin in 2022 in the area of the Rock Island Historic District – roughly between 1st and 4th avenues and 15th and 21st streets, the chamber said. 

    Planned work includes renewing weathered infrastructure and adding decorative lighting, landscaping, signage, security cameras, parklets for outdoor dining, public art installations and pop-up vendor stalls, among other amenities. 

    While many of these new elements will be introduced throughout the bulk of the Rock Island Historic District, the chamber said the focus will be:

    • Reconstruction of the Great River Plaza. 
    • Activation of Arts Alley in the 1700 block of 2nd Avenue. 
    • The gateway between the downtown business district and Schwiebert Riverfront Park in the 100 block of 18th Street.
    • A new downtown dog park in the 300 block of 21st Street to be built in partnership with Illinois Casualty Co. 

    Downtown Rock Island encompasses just shy of 2% of the city’s total land area, but it holds more than 6% of the city’s total land value and generates about 9% of its sales tax revenue and 54% of hotel tax revenue, the chamber said. 

    “When the downtown thrives, the entire city thrives,” Mr. Cullen said. “This council action shows existing business and property owners the city supports, appreciates and recognizes the investments they’ve made and sends a message to the rest of the community downtown Rock Island is a good place to do business. I am excited to see the vision come to life and our return on investment.”

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