There’s a bountiful amount of color and light coming to downtown Rock Island, as residents, business owners and city leaders consider an ambitious plan of $7.3 million in improvements.
As seen in the Rock Island City Council study session Monday, July 24, when an updated plan was presented, there’s not unanimous support for all its pieces.
The proposed $7.3 million in improvements would be funded by:
- $3 million state of Illinois Rebuild Downtowns grant
- $2.5 million federal American Rescue Plan Act funds
- $1.5 million Downtown TIF funding
- $267,000 state of Illinois Tourism Attractions grant
- $100,000 from Illinois Casualty Company for dog park
Andrew Dasso, owner of East Moline-based Streamline Architects, led the study session presentation, which noted a few changes to plans and results of public feedback on them. New options have driven the total plan cost to $8.6 million.
An added feature of the plans is upgrading 3rd Avenue, from 17th to 18th streets, with new sidewalks, landscaping, water main, and sewer lines, at a cost of $1,069,000. That would be an alternate bid during the bidding process, if the city wants to accept that, Dasso said.
Plans for the 482-foot-tall WHBF tower originally proposed lights just at the base, but due to the structure, that didn’t accomplish their goal, senior project manager Jason McKenzie said Monday. So they are proposing lighting the entire tower, to the top, at a total cost of $332,000.
“We could have different colors, so you could program it for different times of year, different holidays,” he said, pointing out a rendering of a red-and-green tower at Christmas. “We think this structure could be iconic of downtown Rock Island.”
The architects at council presented survey results from a public meeting and an online form, the latter of which collected 423 responses. Of 345 comments received online, 250 were positive. Among adjectives describing the plan were “exciting” and “unrealistic.”
At the public meeting (attended by 76 people), there were many people who didn’t want the proposed roundabout at 18th Street and 2nd Avenue, McKenzie said. The online survey showed 63 percent were in favor of it.
“There are studies out there that show it’s an increase in safety for pedestrians and also helps with the flow of traffic,” he said. “There are studies that did some polling, where 30 percent were in favor and a year later, they came back and polled everybody and it went up to 70 percent.”
Ald. Mark Poulos was concerned about the planned roundabout, saying he’s not a fan.
“There’s a lot of potential for accidents in that area. I don’t know safety-wise,” he said. “I know we want to make this something great.”
There’s not much difference in cost between a roundabout and a four-way stop, McKenzie said.
Ald. Judith Gilbert said opinion at the public meeting was mostly against a roundabout and she is too.
“I don’t think it slows people down – nothing slows people down in Rock Island,” she said.
Public Works director Mike Bartels said that many drivers don’t obey stop signs either.
Ald. Gilbert wants to see more trash receptacles downtown, more lighting and is also opposed to the planned dog park and roundabout.
“I feel like we’re just trying something hip and modern,” she said of the roundabout. The dog park would not generate revenue for the city and Gilbert doubted it would help area businesses, especially if restaurants didn’t allow dogs.
“It’s supposed to generate foot traffic, but it’s not like people who bring their dogs there would go into a restaurant,” she said.
New dog park
“Dog parks promote walkable neighborhoods,” McKenzie said. The park would be on property of Illinois Casualty Company, at 3rd Avenue and 20th Street and the company would contribute $100,000 for its construction.
“The dog park would increase foot traffic in the area and would be a great amenity for the whole downtown,” he said.
For reduced maintenance, the planned park would be made with synthetic turf, eliminating the need for mowing, McKenzie said. There would be receptacles and bags provided for dog waste, he noted.
The city has an existing dog park in the southwest part of Rock Island, at 78th Avenue West and 28th Street. The estimated cost of a new downtown dog park is about $600,000, and parking was added since the original plan.
“I guarantee you, Rozz-Tox across the street, with their window service, would benefit greatly,” Ald. Dylan Parker said.
Moline has a dog park at 15th Street and 8th Avenue; Davenport’s is at 315 S. Marquette St., and Bettendorf’s is at 4701 Devils Glen Road.
Parker said he supports the downtown plans overall.
“There’s been a lot of negative comments, but I like this proposal,” he said. “I like the dog park; I like the roundabout. I like the placemaking concept…I know the Rock Island Downtown Alliance is so much about placemaking. The fact that we have our own place management organization and this, it’s going to be very beneficial for downtown Rock Island.”
“You have done a great job on what’s been presented,” Gilbert said.
Expanding outdoor dining
Enhancing outdoor activity downtown is a major goal of the plans, including opening up the current Great River Plaza (2nd Avenue between 18th and 19th streets) with a two-lane street and wider sidewalks; options for outdoor dining structures; a big upgrade to Arts Alley next to Quad City Arts, and a green space at 18th Street and 2nd Ave. (a current parking lot).
Dasso said plans call for providing space for outdoor vendor stalls along 2nd Avenue and Arts Alley, which may turn into a permanent business. “We want to create that ecosystem of incubation,” he said. The one-block area of 2nd Avenue could easily be closed off for special events, aldermen were told.
Renderings for outdoor dining structures (or parklets) were shown outside QC Coffee and Pancake House on 3rd Avenue and 19th Street, and Huckleberry’s on 18th Street. The project team displayed some brief animated videos, showing movement through the improved areas.
Saloni Sheth, a project architect with Streamline, said the public survey showed people wanted to see more green space downtown. She showed a planned multi-use green space at 18th Street and 2nd Avenue, which would be lit at night, with play structures for kids.
The online survey showed 85 percent of people were likely to use outdoor dining structures, which would be leased to specific businesses.
An invigorated Arts Alley (with new murals and painting on walls of both buildings, and the alley itself) would offer spaces for artists to sell their works, performances and food trucks.
Ald. Randy Hurt questioned the safety of putting outdoor dining structures in the street, especially outside QC Coffee and Pancake House, but the reality would likely include a structure on 19th Street.
“This has been done in cities throughout the country, since COVID,” McKenzie said. “We could look at adding concrete elements on the side.”
“I just think that poses a real threat to safety,” Ald. Hurt said.
Jack Cullen, executive director of Rock Island Downtown Alliance, said that location would not be definite, but would be up to restaurants to lease from the city.
“Across the country, these have exploded across the United States, frankly including large metros that are busier than our downtown,” he said, noting Lagomarcino’s in downtown Moline has used one, and is currently in place. “There are ways to create a structure, a barrier between the traffic and the structure itself.”
The idea was, with the dining structures we could spread the love,” Cullen said. “So the areas that weren’t seeing total reconstruction of the streets, the sidewalks, there could be addition of a dining structure.”
Ald. Moses Robinson said that the overhead string lighting looks repetitive in the designs for downtown. “I like the string lights over the dog park and the green space, but we’re putting them everywhere,” he said.
“It looks more friendly and inviting,” Mayor Mike Thoms said, noting Moline has 5th Avenue all lit similarly from 12th Street east.
Bartels said the project presentation will be modified and brought back for a council vote by late August. The timetable is now about six weeks behind schedule and they hope to get bids in by January 2024, with construction starting next spring, likely February or March.
The project will be bid as a complete whole and then brought back to council, Bartels said. If the bids are significantly over cost estimates, the project team would recommend modifications, he said.
The addition of work at 17th Street and 3rd Avenue aims to connect the city’s new parking lot (across from City Hall at 1528 3rd Ave.) to the rest of downtown, as a nice gateway into new features, Bartels said.
“We probably will never get all in favor, but we want to have a good majority,” he said of council approval before the project goes out to bid.
Scaling back the WHBF tower lighting may be on the chopping block.
“That would be a nice feature — not just for Rock Island, but the whole Quad Cities can see that,” Bartels said. “It could do a lot, bring a lot of people to downtown.” It may become an icon like the new I-74 bridge, which has popular LED lighting that changes daily.
“Everybody loves that; they look forward to seeing the colors change on holidays,” he said. “We’re looking to do the same thing. We may not have a 74 bridge, but we do have a WHBF tower,” he said.
You can see the full presentation on the city website HERE.