With more Quad Citizens raring to go out of their homes this summer in search of fun and adventure, our collective downtowns are loading up their events calendar and are optimistic business will bounce back after the challenges created by COVID-19.
Across the bi-state region, many of our signature events and attractions – from the John Deere Classic to the Quad Cities River Bandits, Bix weekend and more – will be welcoming back their crowds this summer. Our downtowns are busy planning the return of their own special events including concert series, outdoor markets, nightlife fun, performing arts and other cultural festivities. Between their traditional events and some new activities, the downtowns hope to attract residents and visitors alike.
In other words, Downtown Quad Cities is open for business.
From Davenport to Bettendorf, Rock Island, Moline, East Moline, Silvis and LeClaire, the region’s downtowns are looking forward to new guests, a return of downtown workers as well as travelers to help re-capture the vibrancy and momentum lost in 2020.
“I think people are eager to get out and explore our different destinations in the Quad Cities, meet up with their friends, celebrate summer and just be with each other – and that’s exciting,” said Jack Cullen, the Chamber’s Downtown Rock Island Director. “It’s a great opportunity for all the businesses that had a tough year-plus to have a rebound this summer.”
The Quad Cities Chamber manages three of the area’s downtowns while collaborating with partners to advance the others. Through its work with the Downtown Davenport Partnership (DDP) and Downtown Bettendorf Organization (DBO) and now downtown Rock Island, the Chamber’s leadership has prioritized placemaking as a core value. The need to have vibrant and inclusive downtowns is capturing the attention of chamber, tourism and economic development circles not only regionally but on the national front.
“Every pocket of the Quad Cities has something to be proud of and has something to celebrate in our downtowns and our neighborhoods,” said Kyle Carter, DDP’s Executive Director and the Chamber’s Vice President of Community Place Management.
Placemaking simply means “who you are as a city,” Carter said. “What makes this place special, what makes this place unique? Why would anyone want to be in the Quad Cities, in downtown Davenport, Moline or wherever?”
The job of the Chamber – through its downtown partnerships and its collaboration with other community partners – “is to make sure this place is somewhere that people want to live, that it is engaging, it’s welcoming, it’s inclusive and that it’s interesting.”
“Placemaking is the art of creating that,” Carter said. “We all have our small little pockets of the Quad Cities that we love the most, but that’s okay because they all bring something different to the table. Our job is really to make sure we’re celebrating all of them and using them for leveraging to get new people to live here and get people who aren’t here to want to stay here and to grow.”
Dave Herrell, Visit Quad Cities’ President and CEO, said thriving downtowns are key to a community’s success. “If your downtowns are activated, engaged and compelling that draws residents and visitors which is a good thing in a lot of different arenas.”
He said new research shows visitors “want to get out there and do things again.” Residents and visitors are hungry to gather again, attend a concert, see a show and just socialize with more friends.
“As that consumer confidence grows, more people are getting vaccinated, more are getting confident about getting out and about, that bodes well for our visitor community,” Herrell said.
Nowhere is the longing to return to normalcy more evident than our downtown districts, where businesses, venues and events are bracing for a fun-filled summer.
Here’s a glimpse of what some of our downtowns have in store:
The Downtown Bettendorf Organization (DBO) kicked off the Quad Cities summer party with Be Downtown last June 5.
Ryan Jantzi, DBO’s Executive Director, said this year’s new location — albeit a new city parking lot — was chosen to provide a sneak peek of what is still to come downtown.
“The parking lot is not the sexiest of set-ups but we want to get people to wrap their brains around what’s coming down here,” Jantzi said.
The locale is sandwiched between the new Interstate 74 bridge off-ramp and the new TBK Bank headquarters. It also overlooks the site of Bettendorf’s future urban park that will be underneath the new bridge.
He said talks are already in the works for new developments for the west side of the bridge, which he hopes one day will enjoy the same level of investment and new growth as the east side. “It’s becoming a place of interest.”
A new pocket park already is taking shape along State Street near Scuba Adventures QCA. Plans call for new landscaping, tables, chairs and benches.
Upriver, he hopes the new Jetty Park near the marina will become more actively used, possibly as a site for pop-up events such as food trucks, Saturday morning yoga, mini concerts and more.
“You’re going to see summer events come back to downtown Davenport,” Carter said.
While the entire nation felt the pain of COVID-19’s shutdown, he said it was a double whammy for downtown Davenport.
“Despite the fact that we got punched straight in the nose during the flood in 2019 and turned around and got hit in the back during COVID-19, we’re still standing and we’re still here,” he said.
Although some restrictions could remain in place, Carter said “By the late summer and fall I think there is little doubt that we’ll be able to have a good time.”
Downtown visitors will ooh and awe as Red, White and Boom fireworks return to the Davenport and Rock Island riverfronts on July 3.
The Quad-City Times Bix 7 returns to climb Brady Street hill July 24. But Carter said DDP “flipped the script on its head” and is replacing the traditional Street Fest with five different Bix Block Parties across downtown.
“DDP is going to be partnering with our local businesses and they are going to be running their own parties,” he said. “We’re helping on the logistics side of things but every dollar you spend that day is going to go right in the pocket of the people who need it most — our small businesses, our local businesses.”
Alternating Currents will return August 19-22 with four days packed with music, film, comedy and art experiences.
In Rock Island, the Chamber and the City of Rock Island recently partnered to explore creating a new organization, similar to DDP and DBO, to serve and enhance the downtown area.
Jack Cullen, who was promoted April 1 to the Chamber’s downtown Rock Island Director, said a steering committee has been formed to define the role of such an organization and sustainable funding sources.
“Downtown Rock Island has awesome arts and entertainment amenities, and we want to build on that brand, among the other things that make it unique,” he said. “The sole focus of the organization will be to improve downtown Rock Island and make it more of a welcoming and vibrant destination.”
For decades, downtown Rock Island’s reputation has been as a nighttime destination with its bars, restaurants and other entertainment venues.
“In our minds, downtown has several pockets worth celebrating and visiting,” Cullen added. “We just need to connect the dots for people and continue to give them more reasons to explore downtown Rock Island.
To promote the district’s family-friendly culture this summer, Cullen is working with Rock Island Parks and Recreation and organizers of other events at Schwiebert Park to drive more foot traffic downtown this summer. Quad City Arts will bring its 5th Annual Chalk Fest to Schwiebert Park for the first time on June 26-27. It is free to participate, and artists will each receive a $10 voucher to spend at participating downtown restaurants and bars. In addition, Quad Cities band The Dawn will host its Dawn and On Music Festival July 10 at Schwiebert Park.
Other happenings promoting fun for all ages will be shared on the Downtown Rock Island social media pages. Cullen also said to stay tuned for future partnerships and public art projects facilitated by the Chamber and Quad City Arts.
Across Moline Centre, downtown Moline’s Main Street program, energy and excitement is growing as both its downtown workforce and its traditional festivities begin to return.
“We’re hoping to get back to normal, but it’s hard to know what to prepare for and what to expect,” said Geoff Manis, Moline Centre’s Manager. “The parking lots are filling up and that’s a good indicator as to the patronization of downtown Moline.”
Manis said music lovers will be glad to know that the Bass Street Landing Summer Concert Series is now back every Thursday night. The popular Mercado on Fifth outdoor market kicked off their season last Friday, June 4, to outstanding success. Mercado on Fifth is open every Friday night from 5 to 10pm on the 5th Avenue and 12th Street corridor.
Moline Centre also is working with the downtown restaurants and bars to enhance their outdoor dining with the creation of new parklets – fenced-off parking spots with fixed tables and chairs. The first one has been installed at Lagomarcino’s, but others are invited to submit requests for proposals, Manis said.
The Main Street district also has plans to partner with Quad City Arts on four new sculpture installations “to help create a sense of place,” he said. “Last year was entirely heart breaking for our downtown. But there’s a lot of optimism for small businesses in our downtown.”
Like its Quad Cities counterparts, downtown LeClaire pivoted last year to keep visitors and business coming to the river town.
“We did not have the typical numbers of visitors, but people still went to their one favorite place they were going to go to,” said Cindy Bruhn, LeClaire tourism manager. “Restaurants that offered carry-out did okay and a lot of shops developed an online presence.”
But this summer, the streets should be full again. The Twilight riverboat, which operated a condensed schedule last year, has returned with 90-minute Saturday sight-seeing tours.
Shops and Hops, an event that kicked off the summer festivities in late May, was sold out with 300 guests, she said. A LeClaire favorite, The Tug Fest, also will be back this summer.
Bruhn said the popular First Fridays are returning but under a new name – Friday Night Live. Still held on the first Friday, they will feature a variety of live music options. But there will be plenty of other live music each weekend.
Visitors will find a new music venue, Dirty Water Music, which opened during COVID-19 along with Cody Road Coffee. In August, the Mississippi River Distillery Co. is slated to open its new Celebration Center, an events center adjacent to the distillery.
The summer fun began the last weekend in May for East Moline Main Street with its Putt Pub Crawl 2021.
If music is more your scene, the organization also offers its concert series on Sunday evenings at Runner’s Park. Food and beverages are available for purchase.
Main Street President Patricia Hansen said visitors will find new restaurants, businesses and a full summer of events in downtown and its surrounding area. Among the new businesses that have opened or will in the coming months are: The Fish Trap, a saltwater fish store; Damion’s Rib Haven (new location next door to its former site); a new Old Towne Bakery featuring its famous cookies and more.
Downtown also will play host to the Rock Island County Fair’s Talent Show in July.
Article courtesy of the QC Chamber of Commerce. Updated by Hola America Staff