Monday, November 12, 2007

Downtown Davenport: 2 Steps Forward, 1 Step Back

2 Steps Forward (more like 5)

The cement plant at 4th and Iowa is slowing being demolished, as seen at the right.

The old building at 2nd and Ripley that Bill Wundram calls "Willie's place," is being renovated into a "tavern restaurant." As far as I know this is without public funds. Hopefully it's a bit classier than some of the bars downtown. Its already looking better than I remember it during my lifetime.

The QCTimes articles from this weekend point out that work will be beginning soon on even more downtown residential, in the form of the former Salvation Army building. Having this occupied should really make the under-renovation Freight House seem less isolated. One of the articles also mentioned that the Alexander Company is looking at starting on Phase 3 of the Crescent Warehouse District. More residents downtown means more chance of retail taking a chance on the area. Which brings us to...

The Putnam/Parker buildings renovation and remarketing as One Putnam Centre. This is also being done with private money, and the QCTimes article states that they're looking for the type of retail that downtown residents need.

1 Step Back (More like 2)

And now the negative. My favorite restaurant in the QC area, Centro, is closing at the end of this year. I will have to go a couple last times by New Year's. While all the articles say how it wasn't failing, we all know that if the place and been a great success it wouldn't be closing. I do agree with some of the quotes in the articles that they weren't hurting that bad for customers. It seems like whenever I was in there, weekend or weeknight, it was decently busy. Unfortunately, I also never saw it overflowing to where anyone had to wait outside. Why this is, I have no idea. Olive Garden is packed constantly, and I know I'd rather pay a couple extra bucks per meal (and that's all the difference is) to eat at a unique, Iowa-based restaurant rather than the image of corporate dining.

Savitri's also bit the dust, and the planned "Red River Steakhouse" never made it past the "Coming Soon" stage. This one isn't that much of a surprise, as the one time I was in there I only saw one other table in use. The only way I ever heard people describe Savitri's was expensive, and if you're looking for fine dining downtown we already had Duck City. If only a Mexican place would go into that building! Downtown has a variety of food, but that's one of the missing pieces.


Still moving forward:
So a couple of restaurants didn't make it, and a new one's already replacing one of them. According to some, its one more indicator that downtown is a failure. According to most, its something that happens, and is more than balanced by all the progress happening down there. One thing that Centro's failure demonstrates to me is that downtown has an image problem. People are willing to fight Kimberly traffic and park over by Office Max to go to Olive Garden, but not willing to park diagonally across the street in the free parking lot for Centro? Are some people still holding onto the false feeling that downtown is dangerous? Come on folks, 2nd and Main has got to be one of the safest and cleanest intersections in town. I hope that the incoming Woodfire Grill is supported at least as well as any similar NoLo restaurant.

28 Comments:

At 11/12/2007 7:50 AM, Blogger Lisa said...

Most of this is very good news. Thanks for posting it in a comprehensive way, QCI.

My gut reaction when I heard about the change in concept for the Centro space was actually that it's a positive sign - and I say that because I think the idea to go more "meat and potatoes" is a smart one.

Nobody longs for more unique/local options in Italian dining (and other cuisines) than I - so don't misunderstand.

But I know a lot of folks who still can't get their head around paying more than $8 or $9 for a "plate of noodles" - no matter how good it is. And it's still not easy to get some people comfortable with having a "fine dining" experience on a regular basis, either.

Personal example: Chris and I received a gift certificate for Centro two years ago, and after months went by, I realized that he just plain didn't want to go. It isn't his thing. I took his mother for lunch and we had a swell time. In fact, she and I go regularly all the time now.

But my point is that I think the new restaurant - if the food is good, the atmosphere is welcoming and the prices are fair - has a chance to double Centro's business. Plain and simple: you'll get more guys willing to put on a pair of Dockers and part with their dough for some tasty grilled meat versus (what they might see as) just a plate of fancy macaroni.

Just my opinion. Like you, I will miss Centro (especially that Centro salad), but I'm not despairing just yet. I think they may be on to something.

Lisa

 
At 11/12/2007 9:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't see Centro closing as a failure. There is constant closing of restaurants and opening of new ones on Elmore, and Utica Ridge and no one even mentions it. They certainly don't see it as a failure of that area of town. Please lets not look for something bad behind every corner. The downtown will take sometime to reach it's full potential. The problem is that we live in a society that wants instant gradification and can't show the patience and hard work it takes for long term results.

 
At 11/12/2007 1:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did anybody else see one of the head guys from the QCRPA, Mike Steen, got an award from the entire City Council? I think this proves what those guys have been saying all along...They are not bad guys and really have the best interest of the City at heart.

 
At 11/12/2007 2:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From listening to my neighbors and friends talk downtown Davenport has the perception of being dark, dirty, unsafe and to many homeless people wondering around. Also to many poor drunk people standing around some selling drugs. They just won't go downtown at night and I don't blame them. They say the police are to busy chasing the low life’s North of 5th street and South of Locust street to spend much time in the downtown area.

 
At 11/12/2007 3:01 PM, Blogger QuadCityImages said...

I hear that kind of thing too, but its entirely untrue. If you were going to go hang out at 3rd and Western, or over towards Gaines, then maybe that would be something to worry about. In the downtown core, where you've got the Figge, Adler, RME, Skybridge, etc I've never seen a drug dealer, never been bothered by a homeless person, or had any more problems with drunk people than I would outside any non-downtown bar.

The question is, how do we show people that the areas of downtown where these amenities are located are not at all dangerous?

 
At 11/12/2007 3:36 PM, Blogger pioneer98 said...

I know of *many* people who would have wedding rehearsal dinners and similar events at Centro (this is another aspect that makes it unique compared to a chain restaurant). I'd be willing to bet there was an event like that there nearly every weekend. I think business was doing just fine (those events aren't cheap). I think they just decided play hardball on the lease.

I hope the new place is as nice for those kind of special events. It really was/is the perfect venue for them kind of thing. Out-of-town guests inevitably end up on the skybridge afterwards. Twice, it just happened that the rehearsal dinner was the same weekend as the Beau Arts Fair, and the guests enjoyed that as well.

In general, though, the restaurant business is risky. I think we have a very competitive restaurant market downtown, for the amount of traffic that is there. The more people we get living and working down there, the more restaurants will stick around.

 
At 11/12/2007 4:10 PM, Blogger QuadCityImages said...

How in the world is it that no one pointed out my misspelled title??

 
At 11/12/2007 5:13 PM, Blogger The said...

The problem is there is nothing to attract families downtown on a regular basis. Olive Garden is in the mall parking lot, so people are already there. People just aren't interested in going downtown because there is nothing to do.~winding hills

 
At 11/13/2007 12:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Never underestimate the power of television advertising.

Even in cities like New York where there are literally thousands of unique, local restaurants, the local Olive Gardens (which is neither particularly cheap nor particularly good) are jam-packed.

Olive Garden and their hyperpromoted-yet-lousy chain restaurant brethren (Friday's, Chili's, etc.) are superb examples of consumer susceptibility to marketing. These companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars on market research and advertising and it pays off.

I have nothing against the companies that run the big restaurant chains. I actually admire their business savvy.

But I'm consistently amazed at just how powerful they've become, particularly when the result is the death of a halfway decent, local, reasonably unique alternative.

Then again, like lisa pointed out, if you don't offer what the people want (or find a way to make them want it through advertising), they probably won't come and buy it.

 
At 11/13/2007 2:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who in their right mind would want to go to downtown Davenport to eat?
It's dark and it's dirty.

 
At 11/13/2007 6:26 AM, Blogger QuadCityImages said...

Both are incorrect, but keep sticking with your false assumptions.

 
At 11/13/2007 7:42 AM, Blogger pioneer98 said...

I've heard that during the John Deere Classic, on certain nights there may be half a dozen of the golfers spotted eating at Duck City. I'm glad the good word of mouth made its way to them, and not the "dark and dirty" word of mouth.

 
At 11/13/2007 8:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike Steen is a ruthless idiot.

 
At 11/13/2007 10:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike Steen is a local hero!

 
At 11/13/2007 11:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obviously someone, along with the City Council, have very low standards.

 
At 11/13/2007 6:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A local crook. That's more like it. Organized crime. All of them.

 
At 11/13/2007 8:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I heard that Gary Paulsen is a convicted felon and that Lubell, Steen and Vesole paid him to put the Olsen mailer out. Isn't this agains the law?

 
At 11/13/2007 9:06 PM, Anonymous walnut said...

Isn't that like Mike Steen to post about himself. What a moron!

 
At 11/13/2007 9:36 PM, Blogger QuadCityImages said...

All of these last posts are just lowering the level of discussion around here. This IS a thread about downtown, after all.

 
At 11/14/2007 3:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're right QCI! Mike Steen is scum even when he's downtown.

 
At 11/14/2007 5:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

He is scum standing on his big head. His little head. Dan Lubell's head. Richard Vesole's head. No doubt Vesole is in the car when Steen is on his head. Head head head. Oh yes - QCI - DOWNTOWN. Don't get me started.

 
At 11/14/2007 6:42 PM, Blogger QuadCityImages said...

One more comment about this crap and they all get deleted off this thread.

 
At 11/14/2007 7:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We are just playin QCI - you are so cute when you get mad.

 
At 11/14/2007 8:01 PM, Blogger QuadCityImages said...

Some of the comments I felt may have been sarcastic or parodying, but there seem to be a few people that just feel compelled to go back and forth about this on nearly every thread. Sometimes it just gets on my nerves. I miss some of the funnier negative comments that we used to see on Fly's blog. Either that person has given up on blogs or they had WebTV.

 
At 11/15/2007 2:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't see in the article that Centro was closing because it wasn't getting business. I know that the owners of Centro have a vested interest in Des Moines. They have several businesses (resturant and otherwise) in Des Moines and I never saw the Davenport location as being a top priority of theirs. It is a shame to lose Centro in Davenport, but I'm sure the Woodfire Grill will fill its spot nicely.

 
At 11/15/2007 4:24 PM, Anonymous pioneer '78 said...

I frequent a lot of local restaurants but have to say Centro's staff rudeness is what kept me from returning as often as I would have normally.

Centros treat you based on how you're dressed. Did in the beginning and still do. I can go in on a work day in my suit and be treated very well with prompt service.

Same person, I go in on a weekend or day off in my sweats and they treat me like dirt.

When I read they were going out of business, our family went there to lunch last Friday. The three of us were the only ones casually dressed among the other 4-5 tables left in the restaurant near the end of lunch.

We received the worst service in the place. Every other table was chatted up and almost drowned in water glass refills. The "water boy" - a good sized man that liked talking to the ladies hovered over all the other tables and made sure the glasses never reached half empty before a refill. Next table over and our glasses were empty.

Our server was oh so prompt serving tables around us but barely ever stopped at ours and then never came back with what we asked for.

This wasn't an anomoly. We've dined there dressed up and dressed down. Dress down and they treat you badly. You tend not to go back.

This is the midwest. Big cities may behave that way but Davenport should know better. The person sitting at that table wearing sweats could very well be worth a few million and may be a fantastic tipper - when they're treated right.

 
At 11/15/2007 6:26 PM, Blogger QuadCityImages said...

In some restaurants I would say that under dressing is your own fault, but Centro claimed to be for everything from blue jeans to tuxedos when they opened. I didn't always have poor service when I went in there in jeans, but I never had bad service dressed up.

 
At 6/22/2009 1:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What happened to downtown Davenport? Dare we say North Park?
Remember Petersen's and Italian Village?? The powers that be have too much power!

 

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