Two energetic, friendly Quad Citizens are now scanning the streets of downtown Davenport to help inform, connect and problem-solve for those who live, work and play here.

New Downtown Davenport Ambassadors Offer Help to Businesses, Visitors

Dibley continues to work part-time as a waitress at QC Coffee and Pancake House, Rock Island.

Emily Dibley, 32, and Omar Gutierrez, 33, are the first Hospitality Ambassadors hired by the Downtown Davenport Partnership (DDP), a division of the Quad Cities Chamber.

“We’re the eyes and ears of downtown and the face of the Downtown Davenport Partnership,” Dibley said recently. “We’re out there for whoever needs helping. We’re the friendly faces, basically like a walking visitor center.

“A lot of people see us and ask, do you know where this is? Directions…we get a lot of people asking, where should I eat tonight? Or where’s the Adler Theatre? Just directing them where they need to go.”

On the job for a month, the ambassadors have been busy making their rounds throughout the business district to meet downtown business owners, workers, residents and visitors alike.

New Downtown Davenport Ambassadors Offer Help to Businesses, Visitors

Emily Dibley and Omar Gutierrez are the new friendly hospitality ambassadors for downtown Davenport.

Gutierrez describes their job as “a walking resource.” He said the work requires a lot of personal interactions, communicating and keeping a keen eye on their surroundings. “We’ll notice if something is out of the ordinary.”

On Tuesday, Gutierrez saw some graffiti on a wall of the RiverCenter and he contacted an operations crew member (under DDP’s operations director Tony Behncke), and it was taken care of right away.

“Keeping downtown looking nice,” Dibley said Tuesday. “If we see it, we contact Tony and he has a team that takes care of all of that – trash removal, graffiti, a broken light, a broken flower basket – just so everything’s kosher and lined up.”

They’re still introducing themselves to downtown businesses.

New Downtown Davenport Ambassadors Offer Help to Businesses, Visitors

400 River, a 55-unit apartment building is under construction at West River Drive and Ripley Street.

“We go back and check on them, talk to them, and establish a relationship,” Dibley said.

“The speed in which we’re able to get information, that’s huge,” DDP executive director Kyle Carter said. “How many issues at City Hall are just because you can’t get a hold of where you need to go fast enough? While they’re not here 24/7 and we don’t have 20 of these people walking around, but we’ve already seen a dramatic improvement in that reaction. We were able to help the other day when there were broken windows.”

“That in and of itself is of enormous value,” he said. “The rest of Tony’s team, graffiti is a great example. That could have been there for a week. A month ago, before these two were here, it could have easily been a week before somebody noticed it.”

“In a matter of hours, it was acknowledged and taken care of,” Behncke said.

“Every single day, we’re walking downtown and we’re observing, and we see quicker what’s wrong, what needs to be attended to,” Dibley said.


Along their daily walks, the pair (who wear bright blue ambassador shirts and share a bright yellow cart) have recommended places to eat to visitors, given directions to shops and other locales, as well as assisted shop owners with various issues and provided outreach for the homeless.

New Downtown Davenport Ambassadors Offer Help to Businesses, Visitors

Gutierrez on the DDP’s electric-powered cart, which they use to zoom around downtown (up to about 12 mph).

They work in coordination with several community partners — including the Davenport Police Department, Visit Quad Cities and Humility Homes & Services.

“When an issue arises, we’re able to get it reported faster,” said Behncke. “By physically stopping into our downtown businesses, it gives them an opportunity to share questions or concerns about what’s going on.”

As they monitor downtown activity – including the parking ramps — they also stop to pick up litter and record other maintenance issues.

Carrying portable radios, Dibley and Gutierrez are in constant contact with their fellow DDP operations ambassadors, alerting them to issues that need to be solved. Likewise, they provide DDP staff with updated contacts at area businesses, new hours and other downtown updates.

“The coolest thing is they are the first point of contact to the community to us,” Carter said. “This idea has been thought of for a dozen years. It’s been a dream of DDP to have people out on the street to interact with business owners, visitors, residents and others.”

The pair work 30-hour shifts each week and have a coverage area that spans from the new R. Richard Bittner YMCA on downtown’s east end, west to Brown Street and between the Mississippi River and 5th Street.

The program is funded by grants from the Riverboat Development Authority and the Bechtel Trust.

Discussions since 2010

Carter said Tuesday that discussions for a downtown ambassador program date back as far as 2010.

New Downtown Davenport Ambassadors Offer Help to Businesses, Visitors

Kyle Carter is executive director of the Downtown Davenport Partnership and vice president of place management for the Quad Cities Chamber.

“Over time, that evolved into our agreement with the city, where we expanded our trash pickup services; we’re about to start skybridge cleaning; taking care of pocket parks downtown,” he said.

“A lot of this work just wasn’t getting done. There were gaps in the city level of service that they wanted and what we wanted,” Carter said, noting two years ago, DDP expanded its services with a larger operations team, under operations director Behncke.

“The last year has been the first full year of the contract, and it’s gone great,” Carter said. “There’s a better level of service; the businesses are happy; the visitors are getting a better experience. The city is pleased we’ve been able to execute things they just don’t have enough manpower to do, so everybody won.

“The natural evolution of that conversation was, what other elements of the operations and ambassador world are we missing? And that was the hospitality function,” he said. “Providing all kinds of on-site, immediate service for all kinds of things. This has been repeated all across the country, but we hadn’t had that particular role.”

Gutierrez and Dibley are part of the 11-person operations team, under Behncke. He started a week before the April 2019 downtown flood-wall breach.

New Downtown Davenport Ambassadors Offer Help to Businesses, Visitors

The DDP, a division of the Q-C Chamber, has been around in one form or another for 45 years.

“It was another example of, with the partnership present, we were able to act instantly,” Carter said. “Whatever it was people needed, we were running all over downtown, trying to provide them service. Had the hospitality folks been there at that time, it would have been helpful, just from a communications standpoint.”

It makes more DDP to have the staff versus Visit Quad Cities because the Chamber is in the place management business, he said.

“The DDP is a place management group and we do that better than anybody,” Carter said. “Part of livability is your experience literally being in the physical space, so that is right in our wheelhouse. While the CVB is a really good partner in this, we make a lot of sense to be the organization that operates the daily grind of being out there, being in contact with all the business people.”

The hospitality ambassadors try to be proactive and not just reactive, Carter said.

Since crisis management with the flood and Covid the past couple years, DDP’s visibility has “shot through the roof,” he said. “Some iteration of DDP has been down here 45 years. While people were generally aware of our presence, this is yet another elevation of that presence, and I would argue it was necessary.”

New Downtown Davenport Ambassadors Offer Help to Businesses, Visitors

Looking east on 2nd Street, including Barrel House, Cookies and Dreams, and the former Bucktown Center for the Arts.

“There are programs all over the country that do this, but generally not in cities this small,” he said. “This is another one of those weird, Quad-City things – had we been one big downtown and not split up, we probably would have had this 10, 15 years ago. Because Davenport is alone, on the smaller side, a lot of cities around 100,000 don’t have programs like this.”

“We have a 450,000-person size need around here and we always recognized the gap,” Carter said, noting he hopes it can be replicated in the other main cities in the region.

Over the past two years, he’s also served as the Chamber’s vice president of place management, overseeing the downtown partnerships in Davenport, Bettendorf and now Rock Island.

“We could regionalize it, and there could be 10 hospitality ambassadors running around the Quad-Cities, that report to a singular funnel in our organization,” Carter said. “We have to crawl before we can walk, let alone run.”

Two years ago, he went to a meeting of the International Downtown Association (DDP is a member), which focuses on place management. That works on economic development, business retention recruitment, infrastructure and livability issues, and advocacy and promotion (which includes events, festivals, marketing and government relations).

“Generally, they’re operated through a business improvement district,” which downtown Davenport has, Carter said. The property owners within that district pay an extra tax to help fund DDP activities and other improvements within the area.

“It’s a common machine – we are not geniuses. This has been copied all over the country,” he said of place management services. “We were one of the first.”

Both have hospitality background

Gutierrez, who lives in Moline, is a 33-year-old native of Mexico, was raised in Arizona, and first moved to the Quad-Cities in 2004. He’s worked as an electrician and was a mixologist at the former Pub 1848 in downtown Moline, about six years before it closed in November 2020 due to Covid.

“I love interacting with people, finding an answer,” Gutierrez said. “It’s knowing that I helped somebody, that makes me walk home with my head held high.”

Both he and Dibley are single parents and they each have daughters – hers is 5 and his is 9.

A 32-year-old native of South Bend, Ind., Dibley moved to the Q-C in 2016 from Colorado, after spending her 20s basically traveling the world. She’s lived in Europe and out West, including working at a ski resort in Colorado.

New Downtown Davenport Ambassadors Offer Help to Businesses, Visitors

The Downtown Davenport Partnership operations team works under Tony Behncke, who started in 2019.

She moved to Davenport originally because she was going to go to Palmer College – her whole family works in chiropractic (and are Palmer alums), but did not. “I have like 12 – all my siblings, my great uncle, my dad, my uncles,” Dibley said. “I believe in it and love it.”

“I love downtown Davenport,” she said, noting she lives right across from Palmer. “I ride my bike around. I walk, I love the music scene. It’s coming back – I think this summer’s gonna be a really busy time down here.”

Speaking of live music, Carter said the latest version of the Raccoon Motel should be open by August, at its new space in the old Abernathy’s, 315 E. 2nd St.

Dibley has worked at Fresh Thyme supermarket, has done landscaping, and as a waitress (which she continues part-time) at QC Coffee and Pancake House in Rock Island.

“I’m interested in everything; I want to be good in everything,” Dibley said. As an ambassador, she loves people and connecting with them.

“I feel like this job, you’re literally connecting the community,” she said. “The more you see someone, they see your face, the more comfortable everyone is. That helps create a close community – bringing all these businesses together.”

“I feel like the connecting of people is my favorite part,” Dibley said. “And I love helping where I can help; I love serving.”

They’re also compiling an updated resource of business hours of operation for downtown. Dibley and Gutierrez are impressed with the quality of the entire DDP operations team.


“They’re all amazing, talented individually, but when you put them together, it’s powerful,” she said.

The two share a yellow, electric-powered cart, that Dibley calls “the chariot.”

New Downtown Davenport Ambassadors Offer Help to Businesses, Visitors

Flower baskets in downtown are bought and maintained by the DDP.

“It’s so smooth and it fits on the sidewalk perfectly,” she said. “I’ll take it and park and I like foot traffic. You can interact more. I’ll take it and walk. If need to go into a parking garage, I’ll take it. It’s very convenient.”

“It definitely helps us weave around traffic,” Gutierrez said.

His favorite spot downtown is the upscale bar RAW, at 136 E. 3rd St., and Dibley’s is the two-year-old restaurant The Half Nelson, 321 E. 2nd St.

Early in their travels, the pair spotted an elderly woman trying to find a parking spot for her downtown appointment. After directing her where to park, they escorted the woman and her walker directly to the door of her attorney’s office. Dibley recalled how a man who witnessed their act of kindness tried to give them $20 as a reward. “We said ‘Oh no, this is our job,’” Dibley said.

While they try to focus attention on visitors too, Gutierrez said they also have to respond to some of the problems in downtown. They have helped de-escalate a fight, alerted police to criminal activity and regularly attempt to connect the disadvantaged and homeless populations with community resources.

Building updates and future plans

 Like many downtowns, Davenport’s central core continues to evolve with business openings and closings. It is transitioning in some major residential construction as well, as the Urbane210 apartment complex is progressing at 210 E. 2nd St., at Perry Street.

New Downtown Davenport Ambassadors Offer Help to Businesses, Visitors

Urbane210, a 56-apartment building, is expected to open at 2nd and Perry streets this August.

Urbane210 (with 56 apartments) hoping to open in August, he said. “They have really flown. Estes deserves a lot of credit,” Carter said of the downtown Davenport-based construction firm. “That’ll be really cool, ‘cause we’re adding retail base there on the ground floor.”

The nearby Bucktown Center building at 225 E. 2nd St. is being renovated, with commercial space on the first floor, and more residential space on the first two floors.

Another 55-unit apartment building is going up at River Drive and Ripley Street, 400 River, that is not as far along in construction as Urbane. It should be finished by the end of the year, Carter said.

400 River will feature balconies with river views for each apartment, and the building will sport a 5,000-square-foot rooftop deck that will overlook LeClaire Park and Modern Woodmen Park.

Carter’s long-term vision is to expand the hospitality ambassadors to other downtowns across the Quad-Cities. “We need to prove the model works first in downtown Davenport,” he said. “But there is such a broad need for better communications and the creation of a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere for visitors.”

The funding sources will support the Davenport program for a year, and they hope to get funded a second year, and be self-supporting in the third year, Carter said.

For more information on DDP, visit

New Downtown Davenport Ambassadors Offer Help to Businesses, Visitors
Jonathan Turner has been covering the Quad-Cities arts scene for 25 years, first as a reporter with the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, and then as a reporter with the Quad City Times. Jonathan is also an accomplished actor and musician who has been seen frequently on local theater stages, including the Bucktown Revue and Black Box Theatre.
New Downtown Davenport Ambassadors Offer Help to Businesses, Visitors

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