Downtown Davenport Partnership Presents New Master Plan
The result of all that work was presented Tuesday afternoon, as DDP executive director Kyle Carter unveiled a new strategic master plan to the Davenport City Council during a public work session. The 110-page plan (led by a New York-based consulting firm) will be added to upcoming city council agendas for further public input, and a vote to accept the final version is expected by December.
Carter is most excited about providing hope with the ambitious, comprehensive master plan, he said before Tuesday’s meeting.
“We want to make a vibrant, inclusive and walkable downtown that actually has a future,” he said. “We have worked so hard and come so far, and I’m excited to just set the table, remind everybody how good it’s been. Remind everybody where we can still go. Just having that platform of vision is one of the most exciting things about this.”
Carter said the multi-stage planning process included a lot of “diversity, equity and inclusion discussions with a broad spectrum of people that I think opened the floodgates, if you will, on some of the other cultural issues we’re dealing with as a nation right now.”
“This downtown is the theater in which all the world collides,” he said. “All kinds of people are here and we’ve said over and over that this is everyone’s neighborhood, and we really mean that. Downtown is a reflection of the city as a whole – both in its socio and economic health. As downtown goes, so goes the Quad-Cities, and so these things are very important.”
“Whether or not you’re a big downtown advocate, you should care about the health and well-being of this area, because it is your
neighborhood, too,” Carter said. “It will affect you in your pocketbook; it will affect your ability to see workforce recruitment in this region. It’ll affect the long-term viability of our competitiveness in the nation.”
In February, DDP commissioned a nationally recognized, award-winning planning and urban design team – New York City-based WXY Studio – to develop a new downtown master plan. DDP paid the $130,000 for the plan’s creation; no general taxpayer dollars were spent to cover consultant fees.
WXY says it’s dedicated to “engaging, improving, and honoring public space,” according to wxystudio.com. “We design in conversation with the environment. We work to understand a context, and plan with community in mind.”
WXY Studio, along with SB Friedman Development Advisors and Sam Schwartz Engineering, worked with DDP to develop a downtown strategy for future growth. Part of the planning process included stakeholder interviews, focus group meetings, a public perception survey and feedback from a steering committee of business owners, residents and developers.
The result, Davenport 2030: A Resilient City, is a visionary roadmap for shaping a sustainable, vibrant and inclusive downtown.
Building on past and ongoing planning efforts to make downtown vibrant and its riverfront more resilient, the plan explores how to better
connect downtown Davenport to its surrounding neighborhoods and the region as whole.
The plan also addresses the realities of Covid-19 and offers opportunities to overcome the unique challenges it presents.
“Downtown is everyone’s neighborhood, and the time is now to set a visionary roadmap to build a more sustainable, vibrant and inclusive downtown,” Carter said. “The health of downtown reflects the social and economic health of the entire city, and the ideas and actions this plan has to offer will create a better future for Davenport and the entire Quad-Cities.”
The master plan outlines five key pillars for growth organized around a central vision:
“Davenport is resilient. By 2030, downtown Davenport has the potential to be a thriving residential center; a space for entrepreneurship and innovation; and a hub for entertainment, arts and play,” the executive summary says. “To achieve that goal, Davenport must invest heavily in its streets, public spaces and riverfront; connect small businesses and entrepreneurs to capital; and focus on creating a unique and inclusive
Framework for Growth: Five Key Pillars
- Playful, Connected & Protected: Enhance the downtown public realm and infrastructure and create a more resilient riverfront
- Livable: Make downtown an attractive, welcoming place for residents, families and visitors.
- Innovative: Create an entrepreneurial ecosystem focused on attracting jobs, talent inclusivity and innovation.
- Inclusive: Create a diverse, equitable and inclusive downtown through the design and programming of the public realm, fostering a small business entrepreneurial ecosystem and creating varied housing options.
- Celebrated: Define downtown Davenport’s identity and brand within the region as an unconventional, inclusive and unforgettable destination.
A full executive summary, including specific actions and strategic priorities for each pillar, is available at www.DowntownDavenport.com.
“Davenport’s downtown continues to grow with companies investing in its future,” said Brad Martell, DDP board chairman and president/CEO of the YMCA of the Iowa Mississippi Valley. “The DDP board agrees this is a bold yet attainable plan, which will help guide us to future growth.”
Overcoming many crises
“Resilience” has been a key word to describe the Q-C throughout 2019 (which saw record-breaking flooding downtown) and 2020 (with its many health, social and economic crises), Carter said.
“Resilience is a word you’ve seen around the country, frankly,” he said. “It’s mostly related to Covid, but in our case related to both flooding
and Covid, and the polar vortex, if you want to throw that in. We’ve had a really tough couple of years, after a 20-year run of really incredible momentum and success.
“This is a big speed bump for sure, but I think it’s important to give people that hope and reminder of just how good it’s been; how great it can be again, despite the fact that we’re in the middle of a real down point,” Carter said.
“We have to remember we’re still in the middle of Covid,” he said. “We came off a flood last year, we’re dealing with Covid. There’s some low-hanging fruit things we can do, to keep the machine rolling while we suffer through all of this.”
Over the past week in Iowa, there have been an average of 1,298 positive Covid cases per day, an increase of 26 percent from the average two weeks earlier. There have been 4,618 cases total in Scott County, and 40 deaths from the virus.
“There’s some really good ideas of action items, whether it’s activating alleys; getting our entrepreneurial ecosystem together; being more inclusive and working with minority business owners and entrepreneurs as well,” Carter said of short-term fixes – such as murals, sculptures, parklets, outdoor markets and food trucks. “There’s a lot of things we can do now, and I think you’re gonna see that.”
Like all strategic plans, specific action items and public infrastructure investments will require future budget allocation, prioritization and public/council input before becoming a reality. The master plan is a strategic vision to guide development, not a binding vote for specific projects or budgets, he said.
The plan is broken down into recommendations over three big chunks of time – the next 6-18 months; 2-5 years, and 6-10 years.
Most of costs for recommendations will come later, when they consider specific projects, Carter said.
“Whether it’s moving the bus station, or building a space out geared toward entrepreneurial assistance,” he said. “This is a road map – and with a road map, you’re not gonna get specific numbers on things because you don’t know what they’re really gonna shape up to be yet. First, we’re just trying to get general agreement that this is a direction we want to be, and we can get
into the weeds as we approach every budget cycle and prioritize what we want to do first.”
The city wants to move the Ground Transportation Center (built in the ‘80s on River Drive between Ripley and Harrison) mainly because it doesn’t need that much space anymore, Carter said.
“It’s overbuilt, because they no longer do the maintenance and storage of a lot of the buses down there,” he said. “Eastern Iowa Community
College is no longer using the second floor that they owned. The city owns the land and the first floor, and we have a large, gigantic building that services a need that is not so large and gigantic.”
Like Rock Island did, Davenport wants to build a bus station that’s better for riders, located closer to Centennial Bridge, easier to get to, at the old YMCA site on the west side of downtown (606 W. 2nd St.), paired with a residential development.
“I think we can do all of that and free up that site for a whole new square block of mixed-use development,” Carter said of the land across from the Figge Art Museum.
The consulting team engaged multiple stakeholders, ranging from elected officials to policymakers, developers, local business owners, community-based organizations, public safety officers, and most importantly, the Davenport community. Due to the Covid public health crisis, all public forums were conducted virtually.
The team conducted over 25 interviews, three virtual focus groups, three Steering Committee meetings, and conducted an online perception survey that received over 500 responses. While the environment has been challenging, the time to create a new downtown master plan could not be better to ensure a swift recovery and the continued growth of Davenport, Carter said.
“Just having to do everything virtually was a challenge,” he said Tuesday. “It had its upsides, it had its downs. People were really eager and willing to be a part of it, so it’s easy to set the meetings up and make them happen, with broad ranges of people.”
Meeting challenges with opportunities
The master plan notes several challenges facing downtown:
- Lack of connection to surrounding neighborhoods
- Shift to remote work and historic unemployment
- Impact of growing e-commerce and delivery
- One-way streets challenging growth
- Need for clear and legible gateways
- No central gathering place in downtown
- Riverfront and flood mitigation
- Accessibility and transportation challenges
- Office building vacancies, including Mississippi Plaza
Among the plan’s many recommendations include developing principles for the riverfront that balance flood protection with world-class
design. The recommendations include:
- Support the conversion of 3rd and 4th streets to two-way streets.
- Create a downtown mural arts program with key local and regional partners.
- Establish parklets & outdoor dining program geared towards small retailers.
- Develop events programming, with outdoor films, music, and other activities.
- Track federal funding opportunities and apply (CARES act, etc.)
- Establish Downtown Ambassador and hospitality program and continue enhanced cleaning services.
- Establish a downtown residents working group to help shape and improve the quality of life for downtown residents.
- Enhance lighting and improve perceptions of safety.
- Identify key sites for dog parks in the downtown, leveraging city-owned land and irregular parcels.
- Establish entrepreneurial ecosystem with financial tools, mentoring, coaching, and other identified sets of assistance.
- Work with the owner of Mississippi Plaza to explore leasing and redevelopment strategies.
- Work with local schools and universities to develop a Downtown Innovation Challenge focused on fostering young entrepreneurs.
- Attract a targeted mix of office tenants to the downtown.
- Establish an equity and inclusion working group focused on creating a more welcoming and inclusive downtown.
- Collaborate with organizations and agencies providing direct services to Davenport residents in crisis.
- Create a small business grant/loan program targeted at supporting minority and women-owned businesses.
- Increase branding and marketing efforts to attract residents, businesses, and visitors.
- Reallocate roadway space to bicycles and pedestrians on downtown streets.
- Introduce traffic calming measures such as neckdowns and chicanes.
- Create rotating gateway sculptures at the Arsenal and Centennial Bridges.
- Create enhanced public spaces for events, activities, and public art in front of the Figge Museum, River Music Experience, and other institutions.
- Enhance key gateways by adding lighting and other improvements under the railroad tracks.
- Redesign RiverCenter South entry plaza.
- Make the pedestrian core of 3rd Street into an activity street at the heart of downtown.
- Redevelop the former YMCA site as a residential mixed-use development.
- Continue to develop affordable housing.
- Increase mixed-income housing offerings in the downtown area.
- Support property owners in retrofitting existing office spaces to meet current market demand.
- Create a dedicated capital program to actively support conversion and build-out of underutilized spaces (institutional, theater spaces) for retail spaces as revolving loan or larger grant program.
- Enhance broadband infrastructure in the downtown.
- Initiate a master planning process for the former Kraft site with a focus on light-manufacturing, maker spaces, and innovation.
- Establish an incentive program for remote workers in key growth industries to move to the Quad-Cities.
- Develop a downtown wayfinding system highlighting key sites and cultural institutions.
- Strengthen the identity of the northeastern end of Downtown as a loft district.
- Create a coherent identity for the west end of Downtown as a mixed-use arts district.
Need for two-ways and bolstering entertainment corridor
A bright, bustling rendering in the executive summary shows a restored, fully-lit Capitol Theatre, 330 W. 3rd St., with new streetscaping and benches. In 2018, the 100-year-old theater – as part of the Kahl Building – was sold by Eastern Iowa Community College District for $2 million to a Bettendorf company called JNB Capitol Building. JNB Capitol is owned by Jim Bergman, who’s working to convert the building
into 70 luxury apartments. and restore the 1920 Capitol Theatre.
That will take a couple years, Carter said, with apartments done before the 2,000-seat theater.
Scott Community College had used the 10-story building for classes since the mid-1990s, and opened its new Urban Campus on 3rd Street in 2018. The Kahl Building was a gift from the family of V.O. and Elizabeth Figge — she was the daughter of Henry Kahl, the building’s namesake.
The Capitol, across from Carter’s Q-C Chamber office, has been closed since 2010. One of its most famous concerts was the Winter Dance Party in 1959 that included Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens before their deaths five days later in an airplane crash outside of Clear Lake, Iowa.
“The goal would be we bookend 3rd Street, with the corridor truly being the entertainment/theater district that it’s always been born to be, and was in the time of the non-Covid era,” he said, with the Adler Theatre on the eastern end, at 136 E. 3rd St.
That should go along with the planned restoration of two-way traffic on the current one-ways (3rd is now eastbound and 4th is westbound), to be more people-friendly and business-friendly, Carter said.
“Activating this whole corridor, we’d love to do permanent lighting that hangs between buildings, to create more of a vibe on 3rd Street in this corridor,” he said. “There’s a lot of really exciting things we can do, when we put the focus on the businesses, residents and individuals down here, and less on just speed of transportation and getting to places as fast we can from A to B.”
“I think this whole plan puts into focus why we’ve been advocating for that for so long,” Carter said of two-way streets downtown. “It has to do more than 3rd and 4th – it has to do with the flood. It has to do with connectivity, how to get around down here when there are challenges with the river. It has to do with safety, with economic benefits, with not having motorcycles screaming down the street in the middle of the night, waking you up in your apartment.”
“We’ve got to stop talking about this in just this siloed vision of just transportation and speed,” he said. “This has everything to do with quality of life and improving the business climate here too, and I think we’ve looked at this much too narrowly over the last few years.”
Looking at similar cities for inspiration
The plan also considers 13 cities nationwide that are similar demographically to Davenport, to see what downtown improvements they’ve made recently. They include Boise, Cedar Rapids, Chattanooga, Cincinnati, Des Moines, Grand Rapids, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Omaha,
Peoria and Rochester, Minn.
One of Carter’s favorites they looked at is Fargo, N.D., which he visited about a year ago.
“Fargo has enormous comparisons to the Quad-Cities that I would never have imagined, and it’s really hard to find regions that resemble ours,” he said of the bi-state community, bordering Moorhead, Minn., on the Red River.
“They had so many similarities,” Carter said. “They also went through the two-way conversion thing, where everybody was gnashing their teeth and then once it happened, everyone loved it. That’s a great example
“They also have a tax incentive in that state, that if you locate an office in a downtown building in an upper-story floor, you get to keep more of your paycheck through payroll taxes, that would otherwise go to the state,” he said. “I thought that was a really cool incentive that I’d love to see in the state of Iowa or Illinois.”
The Davenport plan notes the Fargo downtown’s Broadway Streetscape Enhancement in 2019, which included a $10-million facelift of the city’s main commercial and retail corridor, pedestrian-friendly design with pavers and lighting, and five-year property and state income tax exemptions for qualifying projects.
The plan says that all comparison cities made substantial investment in their riverfronts and streets.
Growth for the Y, residential development and public space
The master plan will build upon downtown Davenport improvements that have been underway the past couple years, including construction of a new YMCA of the Iowa Mississippi Valley; an apartment building in the heart of downtown, and a renovated public square.
The new $24-million Davenport YMCA (on 4th Street near East River Drive) will replace the existing downtown facility on West Second, which will close Dec. 1. On Saturday, Dec. 19, the new building will host an open house, followed by its official opening December 21st. The
new facility will include —
- 73,000 square feet of space on three levels
- Two pools, including 25-yard, 5-lane lap pool, and Family Warm Water Pool with zero-depth entry for therapy programs, swim lessons, and play structures
- Full-sized gymnasium
- Youth Program Licensing capabilities for over 100 children in summer programs
- State of the art cardio and strength equipment
- An ⅛-mile indoor track
- Multiple Group Exercise spaces, including an outdoor “River Deck” on the third floor for yoga and other programs overlooking the river
- Multiple Community Spaces for programs and partnerships
- Multiple Community Gathering Areas both inside and outside
The YMCA will be named for R. Richard Bittner (1928-2019), a co-founder of the Quad Cities Cultural Trust, and administrator of the Bechtel Trust. The longtime Davenport lawyer and administrator of trusts over the years gave the YMCA $10.3 million, including $3 million for the new building.
There’s a multi-story residential complex proposed next to the new Y, Carter said, noting they’re still looking at financing.
Estes Construction broke ground on Merge Urban Development Group’s Urbane210 building at 210 E. 2nd Street on Aug. 31.
Urbane210 is a five-story mixed-use building, including a unique blend of 56 market-rate apartments and over 6,000 square feet commercial
space geared for micro-shops and entrepreneurial small-businesses. The $8-million project is one of the first in Davenport to utilize downtown’s new Federal Opportunity Zone status.
“We are thrilled to celebrate the ground-breaking of a yet another major new-construction project downtown, despite the challenges of 2020,” Carter said at the time. “Urbane210 will not only provide unique new apartment options, but it will also create micro-retail space to help boost small entrepreneurs and further establish our E. 2nd Street retail corridor.”
Creative space-making is so important for the vibrancy of downtowns, which are integral to a community’s ability to attract residents, amenities and businesses, he said, and that’s why he’s excited about the current renovation of Davenport’s Kaiserslautern Square – next to Duck City Bistro, and across 3rd Street from the Adler.
“This is a complete redesign of the square,” Carter said. “This is an opportunity to completely reinvent a space that could host a lot more public events … There will be an atmosphere and cool vibe to the space when it’s done.”
Kaiserslautern, Germany has been Davenport’s sister city since 1960.
Once the master plan is approved, DDP will work with its public and private partners to lead plan implementation, advocate for action and ensure goals are met over the years.
For more information, visit www.DowntownDavenport.com.