Tom Norman is stuck between Rock Island and a hard place, which are now pretty much the same thing.

The owner of the three-story 1895 building downtown that housed the Daiquiri Factory and The Arena bars, he now is left with neither. After 18 years in The District of Rock Island, Kyle Peters recently closed his original Daiquiri Factory (1809 2nd Ave.) due to low foot traffic in The District and lack of a city action plan over the past two years.

After being in The District of Rock Island since 2004, the original Daiquiri Factory has closed its doors (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“While there is some movement/discussion toward one, it doesn’t appear implementation is likely anytime soon,” Peters said by e-mail Tuesday, noting his much larger new Daiquiri Factory in downtown Davenport is very successful.

“During this time, our team was searching for a second location where we could purchase the property, add a kitchen, and more square footage for year-round promotions,” he said. The new location at 303 W. 3rd St., Davenport, met all those criteria, opening in May 2022.

Next to the old Daiquiri Factory in Rock Island, the Arena bar had shut down in early 2020, Norman said recently. “I’m down a sizable amount of cash,” the property owner said.

“Kyle has been the greatest tenant I’ve ever had. I hated to part ways with him,” Norman said. “He was going to try to keep the Rock Island location open. I’ve got to get something to pay rent. Maybe something more family-friendly than a bar.”

Owner of apartments in the River Plaza building in downtown Chicago (near Trump International Tower there), Norman does rent six apartments in the upper two floors in the Rock Island building. He spent about $500,000 in upper-floor renovations about a decade ago and is a strong supporter of the planned special service area (SSA) for downtown Rock Island.

The upper two floors of the 1895 building have six apartments (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“There have been a lot of problems downtown,” Norman said of what was once known as the Downtown Rock Island Arts & Entertainment District (“The District” for short). “We haven’t had anybody’s who is really a go-getter; we haven’t had the right people make things happen.

“Rock Island has gone from first place in Quad Cities downtowns to last place,” he said. “It used to be the place to be. It’s not anymore, and I’m hoping that the SSA can bring it back up.”

What is an SSA?

Rock Island is the only of the major QC cities (including Davenport, Bettendorf, Moline and East Moline) not to have such a taxing district, that levies a fee on property owners only within that area to fund and govern enhanced services, activities and improvements in partnership with the city.

For Rock Island, the extra would be about 1.15% of current property taxes, Norman said.

Several buildings in downtown Rock Island were defaced by graffiti in March, including this one at 1st Avenue and 19th Street (photo by Jonathan Turner.)

“Rock Island is the exception” among local cities, he noted, praising the QC Chamber’s Jack Cullen (downtown Rock Island director) for leading the new charge. The SSA will help revitalizae downtown and bring in new businesses, but it takes a group effort, Norman said.

Proposed enhanced services downtown include beautification and maintenance; boots-on-the-ground hospitality and troubleshooting; façade and interior improvement grants; business attraction and retention; marketing and advertising; among others.

A contract for downtown place management services was approved at a January 2021 City Council meeting. It tasked the Chamber with “exploring the creation of a downtown place management organization with guidance from a downtown steering committee, making recommendations to the City Council, developing a plan for long term funding sustainability.”

The former Le Figaro building on 2nd Avenue downtown has been vacant several years. (photo: Brian Weckerly)

“We are willing to put in more of our own money to invest in the downtown. It will help our businesses and properties thrive, and our community as a whole,” said Nicole Watson-Lam, Vice Chair, Downtown Rock Island Steering Committee, and owner of Ms. BriMani’s Hair & Beauty Supply and The Urban Reserve.

Downtown Rock Island Steering Committee member Jon Keim opened Huckleberry’s (223 18th St.) 30 years ago. Keim, who later bought the building and lives above the restaurant, said when business and property owners and the city share a vision and work together, the downtown is successful.

“There will be stewardship, a day-to-day vested interest in the greater downtown. There will be a focus on the streets, it’ll be extra eyes and boots-on-the-ground, collaboration and marketing. With all of that, the greater downtown will have more reach and more value, and I see that lifting everyone,” Keim said. “It will cost us a little more day-to-day, but it is pennies on the dollar when you consider the value to your business or your property. The future, that is what we are all excited about, and not just our future, but that of our neighbors.”

Huckleberry’s on 18th Street has been downtown for 30 years. (photo: Brian Weckerly)

To ensure greater funding stability, the SSA would not be the sole source of funding for a downtown place management organization. It would be supplemented with additional contributions from private partners and the city, according to a council memo. At the Aug. 8 meeting, the council voted 5-1 to pass the first-reading ordinance for the SSA.

It is also being proposed for a five-year trial period as opposed to being permanent. The idea being that an evaluation of the SSA and the organization it helps fund can be done at the end of that trial period and, only if deemed successful, continued, according to the memo from Miles Brainard, the city Community & Economic Development Director.

“That no such thing exists now is what sets downtown Rock Island apart from its neighbors who benefit from actively managed downtowns,” he wrote. “A significant investment in infrastructure alone will not be enough to revitalize the downtown. A holistic approach that includes both infrastructure improvements and quality place management is required..

“The dual proposal put forward by the steering committee would meet that requirement. Other options exist, but positive momentum may be lost if action is substantially delayed,” the memo says.

Process for approving SSA

The process for establishing an SSA is explained in State law and involves several steps. The timeline for Rock Island is:

  • Aug. 22: Initiating Ordinance 2nd Reading.
  • Aug. 23: 60-day waiting period prior to public hearing begins.
  • Oct. 8: Public hearing notice published.
  • Oct. 21: 60 day waiting period prior to public hearing ends.
  • Oct. 24: Public Hearing.
  • Oct. 25: 60-day period for objection petitions to be submitted begins.
  • Nov. 14: Establishing Ordinance 1st Reading.
  • Nov. 28: Establishing Ordinance 2nd Reading and Chamber contract approval.
  • Nov. 29: Record the establishing ordinance with the County.
  • Dec. 23: 60-day period for objection petitions to be submitted ends.

The city must approve a contract with the Chamber to provide the services. The Chamber would be paid, using the combination of funds to create and operate a downtown place management organization on the city’s behalf. This would mirror the public-private partnership seen in downtown Davenport. If the SSA is not established, the contract could not go into effect. In reverse, however, the SSA could be established and said contract could still be rejected.

The downtown website (downtownrockisland.org) features Daiquiri Factory and The Arena (at right in the photo) on the home page, and they’re both gone.

If a petition signed by at least 51% of the electors residing within the SSA and by at least 51% of the owners of record of the land included within the boundaries is filed, the SSA will not be established.

If this second 60-day period passes without a successful objection petition, however, the SSA may be established.

Other improvements planned

Arts Alley, a public alleyway at 1719 2nd Ave., Rock Island, will get a major overhaul and revitalization with the help of a $267,181 grant for the Chamber and city of Rock Island from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

Rock Island Mayor Mike Thoms spoke at a May 2022 press conference in Arts Alley on ambitious renovations planned for the space.

The city has committed about $200,000 for Arts Alley, among $1.5 million in downtown Tax Increment Financing (TIF) revenue for downtown infrastructure improvements. Additional matching funds for the $535,000 Arts Alley project come from the Doris & Victor Day Foundation, Quad City Arts, Rauch Family Foundation, Rock Island Arts Guild and the Rock Island Community Foundation.

Upon final review and approval by the City Council, the project is expected to begin this fall and finish in 2023.

Renderings by Streamline Architects of the planned improvements to Arts Alley in downtown Rock Island.

The city and chamber also have submitted a $3-million state grant to spread needed improvements throughout downtown.

“We anticipate the Downtown improvement projects to start in 2023,” Cullen said this week. “We are still waiting to hear from the State of Illinois regarding our Rebuild Downtowns & Main Streets Capital Grant application. We were informed the State plans to make grant award announcements this summer.”

The work to build a new three-story federal courthouse in downtown Rock Island is expected to be complete by late summer 2023 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

Construction is proceeding on the planned three-story federal courthouse building at 320 18th St. Russell’s schedule is to have construction of the 53,356-square-foot building (to house a U.S. District Court house and several government offices) completed by the end of summer 2023.