Monday, October 27, 2008

Fall Drive Images

Here are some images from a Sunday drive we took to check out the fall colors.

We drove up the Iowa side, taking Highway 67 all the way up through Clinton to Iowa-64, which we took through Sabula and over to Savanna, Illinois, where we took IL State Route 84 to Mississippi Palisades State Park.

I really like the 3 previous ones, because of both the scenery and my love of trains. They were taken from the Lookout Point overlook.

This is the bridge between the island town of Sabula and Savanna, Illinois.

This one, looking down the walkway towards one of the overlooks at Palisades, was taken by my girlfriend. We both liked it so much that I had to include it.

We came all the way back down Highway 84 on the Illinois side, which I hadn't been down in years. I was impressed with downtown Savanna, which I think was one of the neatest of the river towns we went through. The image above was taken of the Dutch Windmill in Fulton, Illinois. We were about half an hour too late to get inside, if its even still open for the season. As we got back to the QC, we stopped at Sneaky Pete's in LeClaire for supper. It was actually the first time I'd been there, and I was impressed with the place, the view, and the food. I'm also very impressed with what LeClaire has done with the downtown, but I may post more about that later.

Overall it was well worth the drive, especially now that gas prices are approaching $2 again. The crazy wind isn't helping keep the leaves on the trees, but I'd say that the fall colors should last at least another week up there.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Chilly Saturday Assortment

Just a few things from around the QC

The Leader, not the Reader

A few posts down, one of the commenters was wondering about a rumor that the River Cities' Reader was going away. It turns out, at least according to this blog post by Dispatch-Argus columnist and blogger Shane Brown, that its the QC Leader that is going away. This was formerly just known as the Leader, and recently underwent a makeover that turned its exterior appearance into a blatant ripoff of the RCReader. Quite a few years ago, I delivered the Leader on Wednesdays in a few Davenport neighborhoods. It was amazing to me the lengths people went to to avoid getting this free newspaper. People would yell at me not to deliver it to them anymore, I'd tell them they had to call the cancellation number, they'd refuse, etc, etc. Its not a good sign of a newspaper's quality when people are willing to get in an argument to avoid getting it for free.

Convicted felon runs campaign against Scott Co. attorney -QCTimes

Prior to this article I was leaning towards voting for Pries, because I believe there needs to be some serious change down at the courthouse. However, the fact that the Steen smear-factory is against Walton makes me wonder if I've underestimated him. The important thing is that we all vote out Judge Christine Dalton Ploof, so she won't be handing out light sentences and giving 65th chances for the Quad Cities' worst criminal. Every time Pachino Hill goes to trial it should be looked at along the lines of using tax evasion against Capone. Find something to get him in prison. Now I sound like some of the attack brochures... I'm still undecided on the County Attorney thing.

DavenportOne awards grants for fa├žade projects -QCTimes

This seems like a great use of the extra tax that downtown businesses pay. If this kind of gradual upgrade of the downtown appearance continues throughout the years, it will make a huge difference in the perception of downtown Davenport by both visitors and citizens. I think the conversion of the Salvation Army building into lofts and the hopefully-soon Freight House streetscaping will make a big difference in that end of downtown as well. In other Downtown Partnership news, the sidewalks in front of the 4th Street Lofts are being redone to match the rest of the downtown streetscaping. This was done in front of the Crescent Macaroni building a few years ago.

Monday, October 20, 2008

More Steam Train Images

This weekend was the "Rail Ride for Flood Relief" event in the Quad Cities. Two steam engines took passengers on 90 minute trips towards either Walcott or Silvis, and there were also a few dinner excursions between the Quad Cities and Iowa City.

This QJ steam engine was built in China during the 1980's. They were purchased by the Iowa Interstate Railroad in 2006. Here's a PDF file showing them being unloaded from flat cars in Rock Island. Back when they visited during RiverWay 2006, it was said that they were bought to resell. One of the more recent articles said they were bought for spare parts and "to operate and display on occasion." Personally I think that the owner of IAIS just thinks they're cool, and this is his hobby.

The Iowa Interstate Railroad has also been buying up some old passenger cars, including a couple that have been repainted in IAIS colors, which I didn't get a good picture of.

On the left is one of the IAIS's 12 new GE Evolution locomotives (bit over $2 mil each), which you may have seen in some of GE's television commercials. They are much more fuel efficient than previous locomotives. These are the first brand new engines ever purchased by the railroad. On the right is IAIS's chairman and owner, Henry Posner. He donated all of the coal, fuel, equipment, and man-hours that were involved in this charity event, which allowed all the money that came in from ticket sales to go straight to the Salvation Army and their flood relief efforts. He was the hero of the weekend, and it was interesting to see that he didn't dress like the stereotypical railroad baron.

Here are a couple of views of the Davenport skyline, as seen from the train crossing Arsenal Island and the Arsenal Bridge. If the QC ever finally gets Amtrak service to Chicago, the state of Iowa is interested in extending service over to Iowa City, Des Moines, and eventually Omaha. If this happens, these will be the tracks that Amtrak would use, and this is the view of Davenport that the passengers would get. Its a little better than the view from I-80.

There would also be plenty of views like this between Davenport and Iowa City, although its a pretty nice view in its own way. This was taken near Walcott.

Finally, here's a video I took through the unfortunately dirty windows during the return crossing the Arsenal Bridge.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Steam Trains (More Later)

I was fortunately able to take the 3PM steam locomotive-powered trip to Walcott yesterday, and it was great. I'll have more images, a movie, and such later.

For now here are the QCTimes and QCOnline articles.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Flames, Trains, and sparse blogging

Saturday night was the first home game for the Quad City Flames, and I'm happy to say they won 3-1. I'm not as happy to say that they only had a bit over 5,000 people show up at the game, with only around 2,000 coming to Sunday night's. I think they need to contact Main Street Baseball and ask them for some pointers on increasing attendance at minor league sporting events. Growing up I was never into hockey whatsoever, but whenever I go to a game at the iWireless Center or Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, I find myself paying more attention than I do in nearly any sport. So if any of you out there haven't been to a game, and feel that hockey on TV doesn't do anything for you, I would absolutely recommend going to a live game to see the difference.

Iowa Interstate Railroad wants to raise $75K for flood relief -QCTimes
The steam engines are coming back to town! Well, two of them at least.
When they were here in 2006 for the RiverWay celebration, I deeply regretted that I didn't get the chance to take any of the excursions that were offered. I'm hoping to make it on one of the $40 trips to Walcott and back this year. The fact that its for a cause that we all know first hand is deserving makes it ever harder to pass up. I especially look forward to the view from the upper deck of the Government Bridge. Check out Rock Island's city website for tickets.

Finally, I want to say a few things about my lack of posting. I feel there are a few reasons behind this. One of them is that frankly, city politics are less interesting since the new council came in. Suddenly we're not talking about awkward confrontations, DUIs, near-fistfights, sexual harassment, restraining orders, or lawsuits. Its kind of nice, actually. One thing I miss are the Council Updates being posted on the city website. I'm not sure why that practice was stopped, but if they're still being written, and are now secret, that's the opposite of transparency. While the decisions being made still concern me, its harder for me to jump on the computer and type out a post about rental policies surrounding St. Ambrose than it was to write about some of the various dramas with the previous council.

The second reason for my lack of blogging, and the more recent one, is that I've been following the 2008 election closely. As always, this blog isn't the place for national politics, but as someone who loves the strategy and details of politics, this election is an exciting one to watch. So instead of reading through the upcoming "requests for bids" on the city website looking for interesting tidbits, I find myself reading through polling data and doing electoral college calculations. If November 5th rolls around and I don't start writing more, then I suppose this excuse is a bunch of baloney.

I certainly miss some of the in-depth and fiery discussions that used to rage back and forth in the comments, so I'm hoping to get more involved in running this blog again one way or another.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A few good development things

Blackhawk Hotel redevelopment plan to be unveiled Wednesday -QCTimes
As I've said many times, this could be the biggest development for downtown Davenport in many, many years. Adding hotel rooms and the Gold Room onto the RiverCenter will make it more viable, and restoring the Blackhawk is important for downtown and its history. I look forward to riding in the glass elevator again someday.

Davenport Council: Taylor School, Showcase projects outlined -QCTimes
Things seem to be turning around on North Brady Street, and when 65th/67th finally connects over to Eastern, I can only imagine that area being even more successful. Maybe some of the positive changes can push into Goose Creek to help continue the slight improvement there in recent years.
Also, the Taylor School redevelopment should be good for that neighborhood, although I'd like to see the renderings of the addition.

Prairie Heights finally makes it into the newspaper!
After months of checking the Home section of the QCTimes with no mention of the QC's most innovative subdivision, PH finally makes a tiny appearance. One of the new houses in Prairie Heights is part of the QC Home Builders' Fall Harvest of Homes. Here's a bland video about it, showing a little of the developing almost-new urbanist subdivision.

Between the Blackhawk Hotel, Taylor School, the old hotel/cinemas site on North Brady, and the redevelopment of the old ShopKo/JoeVan site in Bettendorf, quite a few of the Iowa QC's ugliest or most endangered properties are being fixed up. All that during bad economic times too. The old cinema and hotel site and the old ShopKo are great examples of TIF being used for its original purpose of redeveloping blighted properties.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Cubs lose again!

As those crazy Cubs fans say, maybe next year.

Long-time readers will know that I'm a lifelong Los Angeles Dodgers fan, so I scraped together enough money to get tickets to Thursday night's playoff game at Wrigley Field. As much as I love Davenport's own ballpark, and as much as I root against the Cubs, Wrigley Field is still the best ballpark in America. Dodger fans like myself weren't very popular there tonight, as the Cubs lost 10-3. The way they were playing tonight, they looked like they'd be more at home in a Single A minor league stadium like Modern Woodmen Park.

Here are a few more images from the game:

Even though many new stadiums have tried, you just can't emulate the Wrigley feel.The Wrigley scoreboard, which everyone loves, at least when its not showing the Cubs losing 10-3.

Fans starting to head out, in the 7th or 8th innings. I thought it was Dodgers fans that were supposed to leave early?

Here's one of the few signs outside Wrigley I agree with. Wrigley Field will not be the same if its Dominick's Field, Boeing Stadium, or whatever else it could end up being. Maybe the corporate owners of Jim Beam should purchase the naming rights, and then leave it as Wrigley Field.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

A partial Freight House review

This past Saturday night I had dinner at the Ripley Street Grille, which is the restaurant portion of the Freight House complex. As I've now visited 3 out of the 4 venues, I figured I'd give some of my reactions to each of them. I'm no food and drink connoisseur, (I like Ross', after all) so if you check out the place and totally disagree with my thoughts, don't be shocked. The new website for the entire Freight House complex is, and its got menus and calendars and all that good stuff.

Nan's Piano Bar
I didn't get much of an impression of Nan's, because I was only there for maybe half an hour on a night when there was no piano entertainment scheduled, which meant that the place was deserted. What I can comment on is that it was neat bar, appearance-wise. Its located on the 2nd floor of the Freight House, up the steps from the Ripley Street entrance. There were blue lights, exposed brick, and views of both downtown and the river everywhere you looked. I could tell that its probably a great place on nights with dueling pianos. I give it a B+ because it seems like a waste to have this great bar only busy a few nights a week.

Balls and Pucks Sports Cafe
I stopped down for a fairly quick supper a few weeks ago, and got somewhat of a neutral impression. The service was good, and my food was good, but it just didn't seem to jump out at me as a great bar. The folks I went with were less impressed with their food, and no one was impressed with the fact that their receipts include your entire credit card number. Hopefully they've fixed that. There was a selection of sports memorabilia on the walls, but unimpressive dining furniture. It seemed like extra space that they decided to throw a sports bar into, and I'm guessing that it works well as an area for people to wait in before shows at Penguins. Last Saturday when we walked past it seemed jammed, so maybe there's something I don't see. Until I get a different feel from the place (and check my credit card statement carefully) I have to give it a C+. It did have outdoor seating with a river view, at least.

Ripley Street Grille
I saved the best for last. Its a bit pricey for the pasta, steak, or seafood entrees, but the pizza and sandwiches were a good deal for a nice restaurant. Its not a place I would wear jeans to, but plenty of people were. I definitely like the exposed brick, and large windows that we could look out onto LeClaire Park, the Unity Fest, and the Mississippi from. I got the night's feature, which included pork, sausage, a vegetable medley and beans for $20. All of our food was good, but I will say that this isn't one of those places were the portion size is equivilent to 3 meals of food. That's probably good for our health anyway... and it was really just the right amount to leave room for dessert.

There were a few negatives, however. When calling to make reservations I was put on hold for 10 minutes, hung up, called back, got a busy signal, and then when I got ahold of someone I was told they weren't supposed to be taking any more reservations for that night. Since I'd been stuck on hold for so long they gave me one anyway. After getting there and getting seated, apparently there was a mix-up up front and no waiters were told that they were assigned our table! After 15 minutes or so without even being given water or menus, one of my fellow diners spotted someone working there who she knew, and he quickly remedied the situation. Once they figured out what had happened, the place was extremely gracious about everything, and I'm sure if I was the angry type they probably would have paid for the meal. As it was we got some free drinks and dessert. That sounds pretty bad when I type it all out, but it wasn't as big of a deal when you're out for an evening. If we'd been in a hurry, it may have been another story. I mostly chalked it up to them being new.

So overall, I feel they're probably getting a few kinks worked out, and seem to be shaping up into a nice restaurant for downtown Davenport. Without our unlucky mixup, my only complaint would have probably been that the prices were a bit steep. The Turtle Cheesecake pretty much made up for everything anyway, so I'll give it a B+.

I haven't been there yet, but I'm kind of hoping to go see Norm MacDonald there on the 23rd. It was absolutely jammed last Saturday, and the QCTimes' David Burke gave it the thumbs up, so I suspect it will do ok. Its a better location by far than being tucked away in a casino strip mall. I believe the new Freight House complex has a better chance of succeeding than any of the previous attempts.