The $24-million Main Street Landing project for downtown Davenport was hailed Friday by community leaders as another iconic landmark that will help draw more visitors, businesses, residents and economic development.

Davenport has been awarded $9,600,000 (from the Destination Iowa program) toward three signature projects that combine art, architecture and play. The projects to receive funding include Main Street Landing, an all-season riverfront plaza for both recreation and events; technology enhancements to the lighting on the Davenport Skybridge; and the creation of an evanescent light field at the Figge Art Museum (225 W. 2nd St.)

An aerial view of the current project area along the river, between Main and Pershing downtown.

Clay Merritt, Davenport’s assistant public works director, said this project has been in the works for seven years, in part to fill the gap after the former Rhythm City Casino left the riverfront.

One of the parts of the project will be to implement a railroad quiet zone, from Marquette to Mound streets, so the trains cannot activate their horns in that zone, and there will be a pedestrian bridge over the tracks under the Skybridge.

A rendering of the planned improvements, including a new pedestrian bridge at left over the railroad tracks, and continuing under the Skybridge.

Of the city’s $12 million commitment, half is from federal ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds, and the rest from the agreement with Canadian Pacific railroad, Merritt said.

“We say in Davenport that our most important asset is the Mississippi River, so this is the culmination of us planning RiverVision, which has been decades in the making,” he said Friday. “We have nine miles of riverfront, and this will be at the foot of downtown and this one will continue our growth throughout the downtown area.”

“One of the things we’ve lacked over the years is real connectivity between the river and downtown,” Kyle Carter, executive director of Downtown Davenport Partnership, said in a celebratory press conference at the Davenport Police Department. “River Drive always has been a challenge.”

Downtown Davenport Partnership executive director Kyle Carter, left, with Mayor Mike Matson at Friday’s press conference, Dec. 2, 2022 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“This addresses one of those key issues with accessibility and ultimately this is gonna produce economic development,” he said. “It will translate to higher property values downtown, more likely that businesses will locate here, more traffic to the core.”

This vision on the riverfront is “the postcard of our community,” Carter said, noting the revived skyline will help sell Davenport to the world.

“If you want to talk about community pride, why would I choose to invest here, to live in an apartment here, or bring my family here, it’s for reasons like this,” he said.

If not for large, complicated projects like this, that wouldn’t happen, Carter noted, thanking the city and private partners.

Economic investment leads to attracting people and businesses that will grow this community, the tax base and “give us all the life we want to live in the Quad Cities,” he said.

Helping the QC compete

“We’ve got to reinvest in the state of Iowa in things that are going to competitively position us for the future,” said Dave Herrell, president/CEO of Visit Quad Cities.

“Destination Iowa is such a critically important investment, not only for what we’re doing today, but for how want to think about the future in the Quad Cities, in the state of Iowa,” he said. “It is a hyper-competitive space that we live in today.”

Dave Herrell, president/CEO of Visit Quad Cities, on Dec. 2, 2022 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

Destination Iowa Friday morning announced $13.97 million in new grant funding for two projects (in Davenport and Clear Lake). The $100-million state program, announced in April, invests in transformational projects that will bolster the quality of life in Iowa communities and attract visitors and new residents.  

The QC needs cool stuff to attract worldwide attention, Herrell noted.

“We’re trying to retain talent, attract new talent,” he said. “We’re trying to create quality of life and a quality of place, where your residents are proud and have a sense of pride in the community they live in, whether they’re 4 years old or 104 years old.”

“An investment like this helps accomplish that objective,” Herrell said. “Ideas are what matter, what moves communities forward.”

“We can do more of this as Quad Citizens,” he said of such collaborations. “This just doesn’t have to be in Davenport…How can we make the Quad Cities the absolute best it can be?”

Figge raised $2M in 2 months

The Figge has raised $2.2 million in just two months for the “Evanscent Field” lighting and has about $200,000 left to raise, Hargrave said. “It shows how much the community believes in what we’re doing,” she said.

Figge executive director Michelle Hargrave speaks at the press conference, Dec. 2, 2022 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

When the Figge (which opened in 2005) was designed by the renowned British architect David Chipperfield, the original intent was to illuminate the glass façade, to provide an ethereal glow at night, the director said.

“Cost overruns prevented this from happening, and over the years, stakeholders, donors and members repeatedly lamented the omission of the exterior light,” Hargrave said, noting the four-story museum is dark at night, “creating a blank space in the city skyline.”

When the Figge first opened in 2005, it was to include illumination of the glass facade, but cost overruns (in its $47-million construction) prevented that.

They wanted to “transform the Figge through art and light,” she said. Internationally acclaimed light artist Leo Villareal will work with Des Moines-based RDG Planning & Design and Figge staff to realize “Evanescent Field.”

The LED lighting will cover all four sides of the glass building, enabling it to be seen from across the river in Rock Island.

It will be activated by 1,000 LED lights, to realize 2 million colors, Hargrave said.

“Evanescent Field will emit and reflect light in constantly changing patterns, creating an ephemeral light on the Mississippi River and beyond,” she said. “It will become a jewel for the community and a place of pride for Quad-City residents.”

Michelle Hargrave looks on as Davenport assistant public works director Clay Merritt speaks Friday, Dec. 2 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

It will help attract tourism from outside the region, raising the profile of the Figge and all of Davenport, Hargrave said. “Evanescent Field will provide an unforgettable experience for visitors to downtown Davenport, the waterfront, and everyone within miles of the Figge will be able to experience the building’s illumination at night.”

Villareal has created light commissions around the world, and “each of his monumental light sculptures have become iconic public works of art that engender connection,” she said. They become “digital campfires” where people can gather “and experience a monumental contemporary artwork.”

One of Leo Villareal’s most famous light installations is on the Bay Bridge in San Francisco.

One of his most famous works is “The Bay Lights,” on the Bay Bridge in San Francisco, Hargrave said. Almost immediately upon flipping the “on” switch, The Bay Lights “became one of the world’s most recognizable pieces of public art and it continues today as both a mesmerizing piece of art and a beacon of possibility,” Villareal’s website says.

‘A beacon for the Midwest’

Davenport Mayor Mike Matson said the Destination Iowa projects are yet one more step in a long-term revitalization of downtown, which has been going for decades.

Davenport Mayor Mike Matson at Friday’s press conference (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“Continuous efforts by so many people to evolve this space, into the beacon for the Midwest,” he said. “It’s simply amazing this is gonna be here in our community for folks, for generations,” Matson said. “To see this evolution on our riverfront, with all these people, it’s just amazing.”

“This cool, nighttime, lit-up place, in the middle of our riverfront,” he said. “Continued investment, continued growth, to raise the level of interest, satisfaction, enjoyment, it can’t be beat.”

Merritt said that project design will take much of 2023, with construction starting in 2024 and ideally finishing by late 2025.