QC downtown realizes dreams and charts those to come

In less than an hour Tuesday, Downtown Davenport Partnership (DDP) executive director Kyle Carter charted 20 years of progress, and dreamed of other plans.

“Following three years headlined by flooding and a global pandemic, we’ve demonstrated our resilience downtown. The strong foundations built over the last decade led to an incredible 15 projects and $31 million invested by our downtown community in 2021-2022,” Carter said.

Downtown Davenport Partnership celebrated many new businesses and buildings that have opened in the 2021-2022 fiscal year.

Recent investments include:

  • 15 completed projects reflect $31 million of new investment
  • 8 projects are under construction representing $56 million of additional investment
  • $27 million in planned projects are still on the horizon for future years

DDP was created in 2000 (based on previous downtown organizations), and is a affiliate of the Quad Cities Chamber, today representing nearly $200 million in assessed value, 250 businesses and almost 2,000 full-time residents, Carter said.

Downtown has seen $658 million in investment since 2000. “We need to recognize the world is a really weird place right now,” Carter said before a packed audience Tuesday morning at Hotel Blackhawk’s Gold Room. “Despite it all, all the headwinds: global pandemic, flooding, the world burning half the time – we have still managed to get this done, in a community that’s split between two states, many municipalities, and a downtown that has struggled at times.”

The total assessed value of downtown properties has nearly doubled since 2010, from $109 million to over $186 million, Carter said. He’s worked for DDP 17 years, including 10 years as the boss.

Kyle Carter has worked for DDP 17 years, and this year is his 10th anniversary as executive director.

“We worry about quality of place,” he said of DDP’s role. “If we’re gonna attract people and gonna have investment, we better have a place people want to live. I don’t care how many jobs you create – if this isn’t a place you want to live and your employees want to be, the whole thing collapses. This is a very important role that we play, and one I take great pride in, with our staff and our board.”

“This is critical that we put this together and place matters,” Carter said. “If you remember once upon a time, this was a sinking ship.”

First taxing district in Iowa

Downtown has a Self-Supporting Municipal Improvement District (where property owners pay an additional tax), a partnership between public and private sectors, where they’re able to do more together than they ever could on their own.

Davenport created the special district 45 years ago, the first city in Iowa to do it.

“We’ve been doing it so long, we’re recognized as industry leaders,” Carter said, noting DDP is a member of the International Downtown Association. He was certified in place management this year, a new designation.

“This stuff matters, because we as an organization need to recognize we are at a level of excellence on par with I think I’ve ever met at these IDA conferences,” Carter said.

The taxing district stretches from the Centennial Bridge to Arsenal Bridge, from the river to about 5th or 6th streets.

New businesses downtown

Among many business owners Carter praised Tuesday was Kyle Peters of Daiquiri Factory, for opening a new location downtown recently.

Kyle Peters opened his second Daiquiri Factory in May 2022 at 303 W. 3rd St., Davenport (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“The transformation at 3rd and Harrison is incredible,” Carter said. “This guy took one of our most challenging corners, and one we’ve had a lot of problems with, and made it into one of the most spectacular, beautiful, modern facilities in downtown Davenport. And I cannot thank Kyle enough for that investment.”

One of DDP’s favorite new programs was to encourage greater diversity among business owners, who face obstacles to raising capital.

“We needed to not only to help entrepreneurs, but have a separate bucket of money specifically for minority women-owned businesses,” Carter said. Isa Balloon Design and More (108 E. 2nd St.), owned by Erika Arnao, received $5,000 from DDP to open earlier this month.

“Erika is just a sweetheart; this was one of the fastest projects I’ve ever been a part of,” he said of the owner.

Erika Arnao opened Isa Balloon Design and More at 108 E. 2nd St., earlier this month.

Carter emphasized that 18 properties sold downtown in the last fiscal year, for a total of $8.6 million. “That tells me people want to be down here and it’s important,” he said.

Projects currently under construction include in historic buildings on the west side of downtown. The old Wells Fargo ATM was torn down at 3rd and Main streets, and a new apartment building will go there.

There are several developers interested in the old YMCA site off 2nd Street near Gaines, Carter said.

In the past year, nine properties have sold within or adjacent to the SSMID, between Gaines and Harrison, with a cluster near Gaines Street, sparked by the demolition of the former Y building and future redevelopment opportunities.

“There’s a level of energy in the west end of downtown that I have not seen in my 17-year career,” Carter said. “It’s been a long, hard slog to see it creeping west, but it’s really happening. It’s going to take more time; it’s not gonna happen overnight.”

Friends of MLK update

He’s also excited about the planned $1-million Martin Luther King Park, at 5th and Brady streets, led by the Friends of MLK group, headed by Ryan Saddler.

The Friends of MLK – MLK Commemorative Park is being built at 5th and Brady streets.

“They’re well on their way to financing this beautiful park,” Carter said, noting it will showcase local Black history, as that area once housed many Black-owned businesses dating back to the 1800s.

“We have an opportunity to not only celebrate Black heritage, but everyone’s culture in the community,” he said. “This space will be for everyone. It’s going to tell some really important stories that have been just lost over time. I can’t wait to see this. The park is going to be more than just that.”

DDP is contributing $20,000 to a neighborhood survey project initiated by Friends of MLK, Inc. to uncover and record the history and the stories of downtown Black-owned businesses

“This is one of the things I am personally most excited about,” Carter said. “It might redefine our history and change our history forever.”

The renovation and reopening of Kaiserslautern Square (across from the Adler Theatre) was a major win, including downtown’s first Christmas tree display, Carter said.

“If your kids haven’t come down here to play on the fog machine, please do it,” he said. “It’s a riot, super fun. This is a space that was in terrible condition, and now it’s a gem downtown.”

Cleaning up downtown

DDP has doubled the staff of its Ambassadors (now totaling 11), which is responsible for cleaning up downtown (including parking ramps, sidewalks and alleys), and being a public point of contact for people. “I think downtown is as clean as it’s ever been,” Carter said.

He noted in the past year, 509 cubic yards of trash was removed downtown, as well as 116 instances of graffiti and 162 gallons of dog waste. He also credited the team shoveling snow in parking lanes.

Carter touted Emily Dibley as the Ambassadors’ first community navigator (for about 18 months), supported by Bechtel Trusts and Regional Development Authority.

Emily Dibley is the community navigator for the DDP Ambassadors.

“Everybody knows that homelessness, substance abuse and mental health issues are very serious in this country. Downtown is the theater in which all of that plays out,” he said. “You have to have something in the mix, from the business community, to be part of that solution. We will never replace our social service partners.”

DDP is working with Humility Homes, Vera French, Davenport Police and QC Open Network on the program.

“The service side is amazing,” Carter said. “People who provide these services do incredible work.”

“But if a person doesn’t find the service, what good is it?” he asked. “Emily’s role is to have a better chance for that person to get where they need to do. That takes time and repetition. This is something I’m deeply proud of our board for funding. I’m proud of our culture and organization, and more importantly, this is an international best practice.

“When you go to IDA conferences, this is the number-one issue brought up by every downtown director in the country,” Carter said. “We are not alone. We are lucky that it’s as manageable as it is in this community.”

Importance of arts and small business

DDP will work on improving alleys, including lighting them and adding art, to make them safer and more pedestrian-friendly.

“What do we talk about when we’re branding and marketing? We talk about our small businesses,” Carter said. “Some of the people in this room run some of the tiniest businesses in our state. They make up the lifeblood, the backbone of who we are.”

Downtown Davenport arts offerings include the Figge Art Museum, Raccoon Motel, the Festival of Trees, and Blues Fest.

He praised the wide variety of events going on – from the Figge Art Museum to festivals like Icestravaganza and Blues Fest, to live music at RME and Raccoon Motel, to the Festival of Trees Parade.

“Never forget that we built all of this on the back of the arts,” Carter said. “In the early 200s, when we built the Figge, built the RME, built all this stuff, arts and entertainment drove our growth.”

DDP is looking forward to the big Red, White and Boom on Sunday, July 3, which will feature activities at LeClaire Park and Quinlan Court, and the even larger Alternating Currents (Aug 18-21), which spreads across 25 venues in downtown Davenport, Rock Island and Moline.

It will showcase more than 100 free performances — including film screenings, musical acts, comedy and art-related events. More than 60 national, regional and local acts of all sizes will perform over the four-day festival.

Alternating Currents festival is coming Aug. 18-21, including a Stephen King film festival at the Figge.

“This is our opportunity to showcase the Quad Cities, let alone downtown Davenport,” Carter said, noting it’s his favorite event. AC will include a selection of unreleased films based on horror master Stephen King stories, the only one of its kind in the world.

Looking forward to change in one-ways

DDP has been a persistent proponent to convert the one-way streets downtown (3rd and 4th) into two-ways, which will be discussed and voted on later this summer by the City Council.

Carter on Tuesday gave some history about the original development of the one-ways that cut through the heart of downtown, dating back to the 1940s.

They converted to one-ways in 1954, when there was much greater traffic congestion downtown, with nine department stores and many banks downtown.

This aerial photo looking east downtown shows 2nd Street at right, 3rd Street center and 4th Street at left.

“Every human being in this city came here to do every ounce of business,” Carter said of downtown then. “In the ‘70s, we wanted to triple down on this and get to the north end of town as fast as we could.”

That’s when the one-way north on Brady was created, to get out of downtown.

By the early ‘90s, the RiverCenter was built, which eliminated Perry Street downtown. The mall and big-box retail to the north decimated downtown, and it was a “shell of its former self” by 1994, Carter said.

The one-ways downtown were created to solve problems that don’t exist today, he said. Over the last 30-40 years, downtown Davenport has risen from the ashes and become vibrant again, completely transforming, Carter said.

“It may be faster to get you where you want to go, if there were stop signs and not stop lights everywhere,” he said. The city and DDP has been discussing switching back to two-way streets for 20 years, to calm traffic, improve walkability and boost businesses along those corridors.

City staff is exploring where stop signs should be, and how the conversion will work and cost. Downtown is very low in current congestion, Carter said.

Davenport Mayor Mike Matson spoke at Tuesday’s morning DDP annual meeting at the Hotel Blackhawk Gold Room (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“Seventy-eight other cities have already done this, and I refuse to believe that Davenport is so unique and so different, that we can’t figure out how to do all these different things – that are important and nuanced,” he said of converting to two-ways downtown.

Peoria invested $14 million in two-way conversions, which also have been done in Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and Muscatine. DDP is seeking about $1.4 million for Davenport to do it.

“Please make sure you talk to your elected officials, so they understand people do support this,” Carter said. “This is for you to make more money; for the community to be more pleasant; for the residents to have a better experience. We’re just trying to invest in infrastructure that matches the community we’ve become.”

More housing downtown

The taxing district is home to nearly 1,700 housing units, with 300 more under construction, Carter said. The current units are at 96.4% occupancy, “which is incredible,” he said. “With all the crazy stuff that’s happened, we have fully rebounded from the flood, fully rebounded from COVID.”

The long-planned renovation of the Kahl building (at 3rd and Ripley) will produce 64 new apartments, as well as rehabilitation of the historic 1920 Capitol Theatre, which has been closed since 2010.

New projects include a huge new housing complex next to the new downtown YMCA. TWG, a national real estate development company specializing in commercial, market rate, affordable and senior housing developments, is building Federal Point, a $39-million workforce housing property.

Federal Point is a 185-unit, $39-million affordable housing complex being built next to the new YMCA.

It’s a a four-story, 185-unit development to be built west of the new R. Richard Bittner YMCA, located at 450 LeClaire Street. All units — including studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom apartments — will be reserved for those earning at or below 60% of the area median income.

Federal Point will aim to address the shortage of affordable housing in Davenport and the QC area. Local reports reveal a gap of 6,645 units needed to meet the community’s housing needs. Rental prices have also increased, making it harder for individuals to afford quality housing.

Over the past year, downtown saw the opening of two new sleek apartment complexes – Urbane 210, on East 2nd Street, and 400 River at River Drive and Ripley.

The city of Davenport deserves an immense amount of credit in working on flood mitigation along its nine miles of riverfront, Carter said.

“This is scalpel, not machete. Every single chunk of this community needs something different,” he said, noting some of it’s underground and sewer control can help prevent flooding.

The first project will be along River Drive, where 3rd and 4th streets meet. “I am thrilled the city is doing this,” Carter said. The city is also working with Canadian Pacific Railroad to create quiet zones downtown, he said.

Projects planned for FY 2023 include streetscaping in the 100 block of 3rd Street and the resurfacing of 2nd Street. New sidewalks recently done on East 2nd Street are a big improvement, Carter said.

The Johnnie Cluney downtown Davenport mural at the foot of the Government Bridge.

“It’s such a wonderful environment for business, for families,” Davenport Mayor Mike Matson said of downtown at the start of Tuesday’s meeting.

DDP board chairman Kyle Day credited the strong partnership with the city.

“Without that, we wouldn’t be able to have the big, bold agenda that we have every year,” he said. “We’re grateful for the city staff and elected officials, and their support of downtown.”

You can see the annual meeting presentation HERE.