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Rock Island needs to build up its downtown, and a Blacklist return would be a good start

The city of Rock Island needs to stop pining like John Cusack lofting a sad boom box of tax incentives outside the window of the richest people in America and instead turn that attention to where their music could really be heard and appreciated – ringing through the streets of its downtown.

For months, Rock Island has been panting after a Walmart location on 11th Street, and as most cities do, they have thrown a boatload of incentives at the owners of the chain, the Walton family, who need it about as much as Scrooge McDuck needs another bed of gold bars.

Listen, I get it, guys. Walmart is a big box retailer that brings in people looking for cheap stuff, and as such brings in money and jobs to the area. And, 11th Street is right at the cusp of the lower income section of Rock Island. Whether you want to admit it or not, you’re going to where your potential customers and potential retail workers are located. It makes sense. It’s a logical plan. Not to mention that the area you’re looking at giving to them has been a burned out ghost town for a long while and any legitimate business there, Walmart or otherwise, is going to be a plus.

But you know what? Walmart executives should’ve seen that a long time ago and jumped on this chance. And the fact that they haven’t makes me think that they’re either a.) morons, which is possible, but not as likely as b.) they’re holding out to squeeze you for more perks.

Like so many moony eyed lovers with a crush, I don’t want to see you so obsessed with one destiny that you overlook the potential for greatness that lies in other areas, that could, in the long run, end up much better for you.
And the most promising area is downtown.

At one point, the Rock Island District was the King Kong of Quad-Cities downtowns. In the ‘90s, downtown Davenport, Moline and the village were nothing like they are now. The District was always jumping, with bars, clubs, restaurants and activities. It was the place to be, a magnet.

But especially over the last decade, that’s changed. Davenport and Moline have built up their downtowns and given them more of an identity and a sharp new look. The village has exploded as a hot spot. And Rock Island? It’s still cool, and has some nice new spots, but I, and so many other Rock Islanders, can’t help but feel there have been opportunities lost and potential squandered.

And one of those biggest opportunities was Daytrotter.

Sean Moeller and his nationally-reknowned music hub wanted badly to stay in Rock Island, so much so that they endured years in a substandard location and when they finally got fed up, they looked around the downtown on the Illinois side, all while Iowa was courting them hard, building up a gorgeous new site for them in a prominent, booming area.

Rock Island should’ve been doing the same thing.

There are no shortage of empty buildings in downtown Rock Island that could’ve been converted to a similarly cool home for Daytrotter, and one of them should have. But, that’s past, and you can only learn from the past. The question is, can Rock Island learn from their mistake?

At this point, there are any number of ghost town spots in the downtown that are ripe for revival. The old Brew and View, the old District Theater/French restaurant spot, and a few other places where Tristan Tapscott hasn’t moved this theater company, would all make for great homes for area restaurants or arts groups.

And it just so happens that one of them is looking for a home and would be a brilliant match for the District.

The Blacklist.

George Strader’s improvisational comedy troupe has been and will be out touring different venues this summer and word is they would be open to a return to this side of the river after spending some time in the Stickman’s spot in Iowa. The Blacklist got its start in Rock Island, in the Speakeasy, and really, they’re a great fit to return, and they click with the direction Rock Island shouldbe taking.

The District is already home to Circa ’21, the Establishment Theater, the Speakeasy and District Theater. The area already has two spots formerly occupied by District Theater that are already set up to accommodate two other performing groups. Why not make sure The Blacklist finds a home in one of them? Sweeten a deal for some local performers who are running a local business and who spend their money right here in Rock Island. They’re going to draw people in on the weekends who will spend money not only at their venue, but in other like venues in the area.

And why stop there? Why not try to pull another theater group into another spot? Why not work with Brett Hitchcock and set up a new venue that will work in conjunction with the Speakeasy to book more comedy shows into the District? Maybe talk with Devin Alexander or another luminary on the local music scene and add music to the mix and turn it into a multi-purpose venue?

And that’s just the beginning. There are possibilities for restaurants and other venues in the District that will make it an even cooler place to hang out and an even bigger draw.

It’s just a matter of vision and action. The District is full of potential. It can be THE hottest downtown in the Quad-Cities, and that’s going to be good for everyone – people looking for entertainment, businesses looking for more traffic and a city looking for more revenue. It’s a win-win-win, but first, you have to play the game.

You in, Rock Island?

Rock Island needs to build up its downtown, and a Blacklist return would be a good start

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Sean Leary Director of Digital Media

Sean Leary is an author, director, artist, musician, producer and entrepreneur who has been writing professionally since debuting at age 11 in the pages of the Comics Buyers Guide. An honors graduate of the University of Southern California masters program, he has written over 50 books including the best-sellers The Arimathean, Every Number is Lucky to Someone and We Are All Characters.

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