Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Redstone Room Promise Meeting (Part 1)

I attended the QCTimes debate on the Davenport Promise last night, and came away fairly disappointed. I was disappointed in the format, which Mark Ridolfi admitted was more like an editorial board interview. I understand that they don't want it to turn into a screaming anti-Promise mob, but I would have liked to see more of the written-down-and-submitted questions read by the moderator. The other thing I was disappointed in was the quality of both sides' representatives. Ken Croken is a little too snarky, and Mark Nelson said some completely bizarre things. Unfortunately for the Pro-promise side, Croken didn't really capitalize on those. Another odd thing was how much Mark Nelson referred to the UpJohn study as a source despite frequently saying that it was junk. If you say something is worthless, don't constantly quote pieces of it that happen to support your side.

The main problem with the anti-Promise folks is that they're being led by a band of Libertarians. I have nothing against that party, but of course Libertarians would oppose an expansion of government! A lot of them, even possibly their hero Ron Paul, would like to see public schools go away altogether, so having them argue the against side put a spin on things that I don't think fits the population. The fact is Davenport does not elect a lot of Libertarians, so I would suspect that that isn't what the public wants right now. If we wanted to be Texas, and have lower taxes and fewer services, we'd vote in that direction. It doesn't seem that we do. I know I don't. At one point Mark Nelson said that if this was passed, the people would like it too much to ever vote to get rid of it. What??

Many times during the debate, Mark Nelson showed that he really could care less what happens to Davenport public schools. At one point he pointed out how nice our private and parochial schools are. That's great (actually I don't think they are) if you've got parents willing to send you to those, but many students do not. I guess in the market-based system that they're just out of luck.The absolute worst thing that Nelson said all night was that taking money from the "city pocket" to help the "school district pocket" doesn't make sense. He flat out said they never relate to each other. I'm sorry Mark, but they absolutely relate when the tax bill comes and they're both on there. Let's say the city passes this, and as he so often repeated, it never "breaks even" for the city. If the Promise brings in enough students that the school district stops raising their share of the property tax, that would more than even out the money that the city loses. The school district gets a much bigger share of our property taxes than the city, and will have to keep raising them if enrollment continues declining. Even if you send your kids to Assumption you have to pay for Davenport public schools.

There ARE reasons to oppose the Promise. I have serious concerns about the capital projects that will be delayed, even if it only affects Centennial Park and Prairie Heights Park. I don't like the idea that we're trading something that I believe in, city parks, for something that is a risk, the Promise. I'd honestly rather see an additional 0.3% sales tax used for the Promise than to have it taken away from the capital budget. Of course, considering how much resistance this has hit, I can only imagine the reaction to a new tax. The other thing that I could use against the Promise is their completely screwed up study that they had done. It ended up hurting the Promise's case more than helping it. Whether it was skewed towards the city's desires, or just badly done, the idea that the city is going to fail without the Promise is wrong. However, the idea that the Promise is going to ruin the city is also wrong. I would have preferred to see a non-Libertarian argue against the Promise based on the actual issues, rather than their ideological beliefs that the government shouldn't do anything. At the end of the night, I felt like, "If this is the best you guys can do to argue against it, this thing might pass after all."

Coming later: What happened when Opt4Better was asked what "better" is. Also, Bill Lynn the "expert economist", and the No folks conspiracy theories.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Monday Morning Open Thread

This is just a good ol' thread about whatever people want to talk about.

Just a few conversation starters from me:

I watched the Davenport city council committee meetings on TV last night, and they definitely made it sound like the Forrest Block building would be market rate units. That's great news. As far as the parking, it seems like a bigger deal is being out of it than needs be. The great thing about adding residents downtown is that they have the opposite hours of the thousands of people who work downtown. There's plenty of free parking downtown after 5, so when residents come home from work, there it is.

Don't forget the Promise meeting tomorrow night at 7PM in the Redstone Room, although I'm not sure who is left that hasn't picked a side. If I had to bet money, I'd suspect that it won't pass, but I wouldn't have guessed that River Renaissance would get 70% percent of Scott County's votes either. Its easy to underestimate the silent majority. I'll have a post about the Promise sometime in the next week here.

Also tomorrow night is a presentation about the Corridor Study drafts, that are now available here. There's some very interesting stuff, but I'm hoping to do a post about that later also. The presentation is at 5:30PM in the Police Station community room.

Friday, February 20, 2009

14th and Harrison Fire

What a night to not have my police scanner on. A coworker came in at 6 and asked what was up with this fire downtown, and I told him I had no idea what he was talking about. He said some big apartment building was on fire downtown, and I was pretty shocked and worried. I pulled up the news and saw where it was, and actually felt relieved. I was afraid it was one of the new developments downtown, or even the Blackhawk (again) or the Forrest Block building. Its a terrible thing for any building, especially a decently historic one, to burn down. However, if it had to happen, this wasn't a bad building for it to happen to. Over the years its been generally blighted and currently it was unoccupied. Its good to hear that no firefighters were injured either.

Hopefully this building doesn't sit in semi-demolished state for months on end like the Linden did downtown.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

What should I wish for tomorrow?

Tuesday I bemoaned the lack of market rate apartments downtown. In the comment section, it was mentioned that Restoration St. Louis had an interest in the Forrest Block building, but I said I hadn't heard anything concrete yet. Fortunately, the commenter was correct, as this morning we have this news:

St. Louis-based developer aims to develop Forrest Block property -QCTimes

The article doesn't specify, but I would imagine these will be at least partly market rate, if not all. I'll try to find out if possible, or if someone knows, chime in.

The only question now: What should I wish for tomorrow?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What does a downtown have to do to get some market-rate apartments around here?

We currently have a huge shortage of market-rate apartments downtown. Market-rate units are those that rent for whatever the market will support, as opposed to units limited to certain income levels. The Crescent Lofts, Mississippi Lofts, and now Riverwalk Lofts are turning away dozens of potential downtown citizens because they don't fit the tax credit requirements. What about market rate units downtown? They're nearly all full, especially in newer developments. Even the all market-rate CityView Apartments (former Courtland) have at times had a waiting list. I've seen this shortage firsthand, and I had it confirmed yet again when I toured the Riverwalk Lofts a couple weeks ago. People who make good money are calling to inquire about getting a place downtown, and being told there aren't enough market-rate units for them. How many of these people might be finding a place in downtown Rock Island instead? Downtown Davenport needs more residents, and we're turning them away.

The tax credits that come with Section 42 housing are important to developers, but there are also ways to make market-rate apartments work. As I'll give examples for later, its working other places in Davenport. Other than that, I believe this is a case of the local developers still clinging to their 1980's view of downtown Davenport as an empty wasteland. If you notice, all of the big residential projects happening downtown are out of state folks. Alexander Company (Crescent Lofts) is out of Madison, J&T Development (Mississippi Lofts) are out of Chicago, and MetroPlains (Riverwalk Lofts) are out of the Twin Cities area. The one bright spot currently on the horizon is the Blackhawk Hotel redevelopment, which will include 30 high end lofts. The company doing that, Restoration St. Louis, is of course out of St. Louis. This is a fantastic project, but I believe there is demand for far more than 30 high-end apartments downtown. Unfortunately it seems to take an outside perspective to see it.

Another problem may be the banks, especially when it comes to condos. I've heard from multiple sources that none of the local banks (again, old money with old views of downtown and housing choices) will loan money to developers for owner-occupied developments downtown. I think there's a market for it, but they apparently don't. Jeff Speck even mentioned it while he was here. Unlike apartments, there's no real proof of the demand for condos. With apartments, there is absolute, concrete proof that there are lots of people who WANT to live downtown but aren't being provided the option to.

This isn't how capitalism is supposed to work! If there is a demand for a product, someone is supposed to see that demand and cash in on it. Middle-to-upper income people are willing to pay literally $1000 a month to live downtown, and we're turning them away. Where is the new condo or apartment building construction? I don't believe that it is financially impossible. Look around town, and you will see multiple examples of condo buildings and apartments succeeding. The examples I always use are the condos behind HyVee on Eastern, and the apartments on Washington just north of Locust. Neither of these are out in the 53rd Street "hot" area, and neither of them are low income, or cheap, yet they seem to succeed. Or even look just up the hill to the CityView. Its barely downtown, but has great views of both downtown and the river. It happened when local landlord Matt McDonnell rehabbed the Courtland, charged $600, $700 and up per month, and has had TONS of interest. If someone built or rehabbed a building similar to any of these downtown, I truly believe it would be full within a month of completion, if not before. Between the 1st Army coming to the Arsenal, and a lot of former home-owners becoming renters again, now is the time to build apartments.

So why isn't it happening?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Survey and the Farmer's Market

Survey: Jobs top priority for Davenport residents -QCTimes

“I think, clearly, the city is moving in the right direction,” he said, noting that Davenport residents’ overall satisfaction score for their city as a place to live — at 82 percent good or very good — is 13 points higher than the national average.

Anyone think that 82% of the blog commenters or QCTimes commenters would call Davenport a good or very good place to live? So basically what this tells us is that blog and QCTimes commenters do not accurately represent the citizens of Davenport. Of course, I knew that ever since 2005 when blog commenters were all atwitter about how Niky Bowles would be the next Mayor of Davenport. There's a vocal minority that does a lot of talking, and a silent majority that doesn't necessarily agree.

And, in completely unrelated news, this message was sent to me by some folks involved in the Farmer's Market:


Valentine's Day is no longer just for lovers! Join the Freight House Farmers' Market in our efforts to "Share the Love" by helping the Central Community Circle Food Pantry THIS SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 14! Bring in grocery items, purchase from your favorite FHFM vendors and donate the purchase, or consider buying a Freight House Farmers' Market gift certificate and donating it. The gift certificates make an excellent alternative to fresh foods because the pantry can come in and shop for what they need when they need it! Nothing will go to waste! The certificates come in $10 increments and can be purchased at Full Circle Soap's booth.

Cathy Lafrenz, Miss Effie's Flower Farm and our very special Buy Fresh, Buy Local connection will be on hand to help collect the donations and get them to where they are needed most. Our generous vendors will be donating as well on this day to ensure their healthy fruits and vegetables, meats, cheeses, and the rest may warm someone's heart and provide sustenance during this long, harsh, winter season. Our newly formed "Friends of Market", a consumer-based volunteer committee, will be on hand as well to help your children design and create one of a kind Valentine's Day Cards. The cards can be taken home to share with friends or family, or even sent along with the food donations to brighten someone's day!

Monday, February 09, 2009

Riverwalk Lofts Tour

Last week I got a chance to check out the newest downtown Davenport residential project, the Riverwalk Lofts. This is the former Salvation Army building on River Drive across from the Freight House. I wasn't sure whether they'd be showing apartments yet, but I found out that not only have they been showing them for a few weeks, but that well over half of them are already spoken-for. Its clear that the rental market is healthy. Reading back through some of the old threads about this where people complain that everyone should be able to buy a house seems kind of funny now that we've had a few changes to the economy. I hope we can also avoid the usual junk about limited income, as not everyone is going to make $40k+ a year, and those making $24k still deserve somewhere decent to live. With the right management, these moderate-income buildings can work. I wish there was more market-rate residential downtown, but rather than rant about that here I'm saving it for another post.

Moving on to the actual tour, here's a pretty great Before/After shot of the building:
This corridor will improve even more with the hopefully-upcoming streetscaping along the north side of the Freight House. I believe that may even be coming this summer.

Here are a couple shots of the views. The one looking east towards downtown is from the 2nd or 3rd floor, and the one looking towards the River is taken from the 4th floor, if I remember correctly. There are quite a few units with river views, which is always a selling point. There is also a rooftop deck that I'm sure will be amazing for watching the riverfront fireworks, but I was unable to get up there last week.

Here are a couple of the more finished units. Its interesting to see the developer going with darker wood cabinets, which is unlike any of the other downtown loft projects. The decorating style in the hallways is also more contemporary than the Mississippi or CityView apartments but less industrial/minimalist than the Crescent Loft district. For example, the Riverwalk Lofts has colors in the hallways other than the white, black, gray, metal, and brick that my former building has. Not that there's anything wrong with that; its good that all the new downtown apartment buildings have their unique characteristics. While some of the floors are polished concrete, other areas have carpet or laminate flooring. There are also some apartments with lofted upper level areas.

All of the units have washer/dryers, which is becoming increasingly common in apartment construction. Another new feature of these lofts is the availability of 3 bedroom units, which the other recent developments lack. There are the usual computer, exercise, and community rooms, and the community room may be available to the community for ward meetings, etc, although I got the feeling that was still being worked out. While some of the apartments on the first and 2nd floor seemed very close to being done, some of the upper units are still under construction. They hope to have people moving in sometime during March, which is only a few weeks away. The units range from 550-770 square feet, and the rents range from $520-$770 a month. There will also be some underground heated parking available, which I always regretted not taking advantage of when I lived downtown.

So, if you or someone you know is looking to move downtown, and they fit the income restrictions, take advantage of this new building before its entirely full. These are great brand-new apartments with fantastic downtown views. If the building does fill up as fast as it seems like it will, hopefully we'll be seeing another new downtown residential building announced soon. Thanks to Robin, the site manager, for giving me an informative tour and explanation of the Riverwalk Lofts.

Edit: I almost forgot. Here's the link to the website for the building.

Friday, February 06, 2009

2009 Iowa-Illinois Regional Auto Show

Here are some images from this weekend's Auto Show at the RiverCenter in downtown Davenport. Its always a fun event to dream about what cars you would like to buy, and also check out cars that you actually have a chance of buying without sales people hounding you.
The slightly changed 2010 Ford Mustang.

The 2009 Dodge Challenger. They have a couple of these and they are pretty nice.

The long-awaited 2010 Chevy Camaro.

A Dodge Charger and a Porshe 911 Carrera.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Movies of the QC

Sugar, the movie that was shot here last year, will be premiering in New York and LA on April 3rd, with a possible larger theatrical release coming later. Here's the website, and here's the trailer:

(I had the trailer on YouTube embedded here, but it broke the blog. Just click here to watch it.)

I would think it looks pretty good, but I'm still worried that its going to portray Iowa as some "white's only" hick state from the 1950's. At least it appears to portray Modern Woodmen Park as the beautiful ballpark that it is. Hopefully it will show in theaters here so we can find out before it goes to video.

Speaking of movies filmed here, remember The Hideout? Whatever happened to that? The Avatis' movie that was filmed here a few years ago never seems to have gone anywhere. There's a website for it, and it can be found on DVD in Italian, but it never seems to have made it out in English. I know the plan was for the American actors to do their parts in English, and the Italian actors to do theirs in Italian, and they'd dub half of them for each release. I emailed some public relations firm in Italy to ask about the movie's status, but got no response. I probably should have emailed the QCTimes's David Burke. Any readers know what happened? I know a lot of locals got small parts and worked as extras.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Where in the QC is this #21 Answer

While not all that specific, Anonymous at 8:32AM on Blogspot, and lnelson56 at 10:55 on Quadsville both were the first to say "the airport." Even though we have a couple airports, I am sure by "the" airport they meant the Quad City International Airport (QCI Airport) which is correct.It was taken on my way out of town back on January 12th, when I was lucky to have my plane take off before the snow got worse. I was also lucky to miss that week of -25 degree temps. Congrats to those who guessed correctly.

Where in the QC is this #21

Time for another round of my little "Name that place" game. No clues yet, because I think this one will be way too easy. If somehow it goes until this afternoon without being guessed, I'll post a wider shot.Where in the QC is this?

Sunday, February 01, 2009

People who can't follow the rules

No, this isn't a post about Pachino Hill.

I've noticed quite a trend lately in both of our local papers. There have been a number of stories of people essentially complaining that they were punished for breaking the rules, laws, or ordinances of the community they live in.

Example #1. The uproar over the red light and speed cameras.
Mostly people's anger about these comes down to the feeling that its not "sporting" for the police to have automated enforcement. I'd like to point out that we don't have some inherent right to get away with breaking the laws just because there aren't police around. Don't speed or run red lights, or loan your vehicles to those that do, and you will never get an automated enforcement ticket.

Example #2. Snow removal policies bother many residents -QCTimes
This article features a landlord who hadn't shoveled his walks for 4 days after a snowstorm, and complains that the city charges him too much when they have to do something that is his responsibility. While I believe, as mentioned in the previous post, that the 10 hour rule is a bit too strict, the rule has been in place for years. It didn't just go into effect this year, and if the guy wanted to avoid the city bill he could have just shoveled his walks, as is required as part of owning a house.

Example #3. Parking headaches cause clashes in downtown Davenport -QCOnline
The guy featured in this article moved his business out of downtown after his car was towed away from the front door of his business. The reason? He had 10 unpaid parking tickets! He felt that, despite the laws, it was his right to be able to park in front of his business without paying the meter. Many people disagree with the fact that we have parking meters, but that doesn't change the fact that we have them. If he didn't want his car towed he should have followed the rules.

Example #4. Lack of notice irritates residents -QCTimes
This guy stores his junk outside and then gets upset when the city enforces their ordinances. A lot of people have been wanting the city to crack down on this kind of stuff for years, and now the paper is going to make him out to be the victim. Most of the article bemoans the fact that he didn't get the letter (since he isn't the property owner) warning him about it. If he'd kept his yard clean he wouldn't have had to worry about any letters.

The moral of these stories to me is that if people want to avoid trouble with the city they should follow the laws! Who would have thought? As I said in one of the article comment sections, from all the threats of people to leave the city over this stuff, Davenport will probably become an even better place to live.

If you feel that a certain rule is unjust, you don't need to break it to make an example of yourself. Call your alderman, run for council, or otherwise participate in the democratic process. Not shoveling your walks doesn't make you the Ghandi of city ordinances, it just makes you a jerky neighbor.