Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Maps, Streets, and 3D Models

As Matt pointed out on a previous post, Google Street View has begun to add some Quad City streets. I decided to take this opportunity to summarize what some of the map websites are doing relating to the QC area.

Google Maps/Google Earth
Google Maps is a map site similar to MapQuest or Yahoo Maps, only with generally better aerial photography. In the Quad City area, they don't have the highest level of aerial photography available, so the last (farthest in) zoom option is unavailable. Google Earth is a downloadable program that incorporates the Google Map info, but also adds more features. One of these features is 3d Models of buildings. Groups of people make these models and submit them to google through 3dWarehouse. Currently only 88 cities in North America have collections of models on this site, and Davenport is not only one of them, but it has one of the larger collections of models available. Some of these will automatically come up in Google Earth if you select the 3d buildings option, and others have not yet been added to it. All of them can be added to your personal Google Earth program manually. If you get really into it, you can even design your own buildings and see what they would look like in the real world. Here's a Google Earth 3d view of downtown Davenport.Each of these buildings was created by an actual person, either using SketchUp, or another program. They have a fairly high level of detail, because most of them were created from photographs. The only ones submitted for Davenport, I believe, are in and around downtown.

Microsoft Live Search Maps/Virtual Earth
Live Search Maps and Virtual Earth are the Microsoft versions of Google Maps and Google Earth. Live Search Maps has even better resolution and a closer zoom in the QC area than Google Maps, and it also has something called the Birds Eye feature. These images have very high resolution, and are shot from more of an isometric angle. Here's an example of a Bird's Eye view of Central High School in Davenport.
Microsoft Virtual Earth also has what they call Virtual Earth 3D, which is similar to the 3D models in Google Earth, except that I believe they are automatically generated by a computer based on the satellite images. They don't look as realistic as the 3D Warehouse images, but there are a LOT more buildings rendered in 3d. Even non-downtown stuff like hospitals, stores, or neighborhood churches are rendered in three dimensions. Here's an example of Virtual Earth 3D, looking at downtown Davenport.Just like in Google's version, you can tilt and pan these maps in any direction, and even "fly" down streets between buildings. Rumor has it that Microsoft plans to use some of this information in new versions of their Flight Simulator games for PCs.

Google Street View
Street View is a component of Google Maps where Google is essentially taking pictures of every mile of every street in America. They have only recently started doing streets in the QC area, and it appears they're mainly adding Moline streets right now. Davenport has a view main streets available, such as the Highway 61 corridor. If you see a minivan driving around town with a ton of cameras mounted on it, wave. You might show up on Google Street View. Here's an example, showing the new courthouse entrance on West 4th Street.You can just keep clicking on arrows to "drive" down streets, and even turn at intersections. At each step you can turn the camera 360 degrees to look at everything that someone driving down the street there could see. To see Street View, click on the stick figure on the left of Google Maps, and drag him to a highlighted available street. Right now most QC streets aren't available, but that's changing daily.

Map nerds like me already surely know about this stuff, but I just thought I'd get it out there for those of you with more interesting hobbies.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Hotels and Halfway Houses

The QCTimes has a few articles of interest today.

Construction continues on new halfway house -QCTimes
This thing is going up quickly, but I haven't seen any images of what it is going to look like when its done. There could be one in the print edition of the Times, which I haven't seen. It will be nice for the parole and probation officers to walk down hallways that don't feel like they're about to collapse.

Davenport OKs sale of bonds for Blackhawk Hotel restoration
Another step in the long process of getting the Blackhawk back to its former glory. The 30 luxury apartments are going to be rented in no time.

Confusion, money problems plague Riverside Plaza Hotel in Davenport -QCTimes
The comments from the fire chief are pretty interesting in this article. This hotel just needs someone willing to do more than a halfway job on bringing it up to date.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A couple of videos

I thought I'd take today to post a couple of QC-area marketing videos. I'm sure that most of you have seen the first one, which is about downtown Davenport, because they've been playing it a lot lately. The second one is from the Quad Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau, (CVB) and talks more about the entire QC area, advertising it to both potential residents and visitors.

Here's the Downtown Davenport one:

And the Visit Quad Cities one:

I'd be curious if either of these are shown on TV stations in other markets, or on the Mediacom Connections channel around the state. While the videos are positive to the point where some could call them propaganda, they are an important part of selling the QC area. They're great for showing people that there's more to the Quad Cities or downtown Davenport than there was in the 1980's when some of them last visited. The first step in getting visitors here is showing them what we have to offer.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Quad Cities Waterfront Convention Center

I was on a rare trip to Bettendorf to buy a ticket for the John Douglas presentation, and stopped to take a couple pictures of the Quad Cities Waterfront Convention Center. I've heard its quite nice inside, but I haven't been yet. It is definitely better than some of the other recent developments in "downtown" Bettendorf, such as the strip mall next door, or the new Hardees. While its not exactly on the waterfront, its not a bad name either. Hopefully I'll be able to get some interior images on the 30th.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A few words about the Flames' departure

This is adapted from something I wrote over on the CalgaryPuck's QC Flames hockey forum. Its some of my thoughts as to why we probably won't have an AHL hockey team next year.

I think the Flames' problems all go back to last year. The rollout of the team wasn't great, causing early attendance to be lower than it should have. Some of the QC's hardcore hockey fans were alienated by the name change. Then the team started losing constantly, so it was hard to get new people to go to the games. When fans did go, they sat in an empty arena. No matter how exciting the game is, or how excited and enthusiastic the crowd is, if you're sitting there with 7,000 empty seats, it doesn't have a great atmosphere. Casual fans were turned off by this, increasing problems. It really became a vicious cycle in my opinion. I don't know what started it, or how to keep it from happening again if we get a new team.

Everyone (including me) likes to point out the River Bandits' awesome attendance turnaround. They had basically the opposite cycle. People were excited about lower ticket prices and returning to the River Bandits name, so early attendance was good. The crowds were excited and enthusiastic, so people had a good time regardless of the result on the field. The owners added more promotions, bringing in even more people, causing games to be packed and even more exciting. The year's attendance increased by something like 60%, despite the flooding issues.

One of the differences in these 2 scenarios is that the River Bandits have an incentive to fill the seats, even at low prices, because they get the concession and souvenir revenue. As far as I know, the Flames get nothing from concession sales, so having 8,000 fans paying $5 isn't really any better on paper than 4,000 fans paying $10. However, sitting in an arena with 8,000 people is a hell of a lot more fun than one with 4,000... or 2,000.

So I guess my point is that big crowds cause big crowds. The trouble is getting the good cycle going rather than the downward spiral.

Also, happy St. Patrick's Day.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Budget stuff, a brewery, and Snarky

Davenport Council unanimously approves budget -QCTimes
No tax or fee increases to speak of, due to some positions not being filled and of course the unpopular choice a few years back to add a stormwater fee. It sounds like next year might not be as peachy, however.

Davenport hires stimulus manager -QCTimes
This one seems fairly logical to me, depending on the guy's contract. From what it sounds like, it would be no benefits, and at-will, meaning he can be let go as soon as we get all the stimulus money we have coming, or as soon as he fails to get it for us. $250 a day isn't something to sneeze at, but it could pay off if having a "stimulus manager" is a point in our favor when competing for this money.

The Can Can: Great River Brewery Debuts Its Beers, but Bottles Aren’t on Tap
-River Cities' Reader
I've been meaning to write something about this, but the Reader has a great article about downtown Davenport's newest business. I'm still hoping to stop down and check the place out sometime soon.

And finally, Snarky has a post up about the Davenport Promise. From what she told me this doesn't mean a return to active blogging, but she clearly had a few things worth saying. Its good to have someone that takes a more middle ground route between the QCIs and Cruisers of the blog world.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Monday Morning Omaha Open Thread

I spent the weekend in Omaha for a wedding, which was actually my first time going to Omaha rather than through it. I was impressed by some things, and unimpressed by some others.

I liked all the corporate headquarters downtown, such as Union Pacific. Visiting other cities always makes me wish that more of our corporate headquarters were located in our downtowns. Deere, Von Maur, maybe even QCR Holdings? Deere has too nice of a complex to move, and the same could arguably be said about Von Maur. I still think it would be neat to see a Quad City Bank & Trust high rise in downtown Davenport though. It would be kind of a jab back at national chains that many of the QCBT pioneers came from. That's surely wishful thinking though, especially in this economy.

The least impressive part of Omaha was Crossroads Mall, which we stopped at basically by accident. It made Southpark look like a bustling success story. I'm not the #1 fan of malls, but its better to have a thriving one like Northpark rather than a dying one like I saw at Crossroads.

I might put together a few more thoughts on Omaha later, but for now call this an open thread.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Blog changes (not mine) and a meeting

While we've gone months without much in the way of changes to the local politics blog scene, in the last week all kinds of stuff happened.

Pioneer98 decided to close it up over at Information Swimming.

Davenport Growing Paines is back open after months of inactivity.

Even "The Fly" had a post up about the Promise over on Daily Davenport Politics, but he took it down before hardly anyone could read it. It was fairly middle-of-the-road as usual, although it did discuss the fact that "Special Elections" aren't working out so well lately.

Now if only SnarkyChick would come back, it'd be a renaissance era of blogging.

In other news, the city website has this Media Release: (The meeting sounds kind of invitation only, but if they didn't want others there why do a press release?)
City of Davenport Launches “Campus to Campus Plan”

Following up on the soon-to-be completed Older Commercial Corridor Revitalization Plan, the City of Davenport is launching an effort to continue the revitalization of the corridor between St. Ambrose University and Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Representatives from various businesses and institutions within the area have been invited to begin the process by first defining the project area and sharing initial thoughts about how stronger connections can be created. Invited participants include the anchoring institutions of St. Ambrose University and Palmer College of Chiropractic, Davenport Schools, businesses and organizations of the Hilltop area.

The meeting will be held:
Thursday, March 5, 2009
4:00-5:30 p.m.
JB Young Junior High School Cafeteria,
1702 Main Street

Wider public participation will be sought once the project’s parameters are further defined through the input gathered at this initial meeting. If you have questions, please contact Matt Flynn; Senior Manager-Planning Division; Community Planning and Economic Development Department

This is one of the better ideas to come out of the corridor study. It would basically make the area between Ambrose and Palmer into somewhat of a campustown area that serves both colleges. I won't be able to make the meeting (not sure if its open to the public anyway) but I look forward to hearing more about this process.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Promise Loses badly

According to the Scott County Election Summary Report, it was 60.91% voting for No, and 39.09% voting Yes. The voters have spoken, and they didn't like the Promise.

In my opinion, a big part of this had to do with how the process was handled. Despite taking over a year, every detail wasn't hammered our. Special elections always rub people the wrong way, and this one was no exception. The commissioned UpJohn study was a piece of junk, which gave for more ammunition to the against side than the pro side. The pro-Promise side didn't do a good enough job of explaining how the concept would work, as evidenced by commenters on the QCTimes website that still didn't understand the concept as late as YESTERDAY.

Even if everything had been done perfectly, its impossible to say if this issue would have passed. One thing I do hope, is that it forces city leaders to reconsider the idea of special elections being a good way to pass things that they worry wouldn't fly during a general election.

How's this for a yard sign?!

Vote No on Mark Nelson for your appraising needs. Or any political office he runs for.

Blackhawk Hotel project threatened by critical report -QCTimes

To me, this has nothing to do with the Promise.

I understand that the timing of the QCTimes article is suspect.

That doesn't matter to me.

If this article is even halfway true, and I doubt the Times would risk lawsuits in this economy by lying about this just for the sake of the Promise, than it is a huge deal.

The Blackhawk Hotel renovation is probably the biggest single project for downtown Davenport Davenport since the MidAmerican building was built in 1995. The Figge may have cost more, but I truly believe the Blackhawk will make a bigger impact. Yet here we have this guy, who is closely tied to Alderman Lynn, apparently attempting to derail the project.

If some of you have evidence that the QCTimes is lying about this, and that the folks from Restoration St. Louis AND their bank are also risking their reputations by lying about this, lay it out for me. I find that unlikely.

I have tried to stop using the world Againster because it oversimplifies people's opinions. However, in this case I think its accurate. Why would someone try to stop this project from moving forward? Does Davenport have perfect politicians and government? Maybe not, but what city does. Are large scale residential projects possible downtown? Clearly they are, as we've had 4 in the last few years. Is there a demand for market rate residential downtown? As I stated on the 17th of February, overwhelmingly yes. People who get paid to study the feasibility of hotels say that one is feasible. So what in the hell is this guy talking about?


Monday, March 02, 2009

My last Pre-Promise, Pro-Promise Post

First, a few things that I didn't have room for in my first post. The second half of this post I'm going to lay out what I believe to be the Pros, Cons, and potential risks and rewards of the Promise.

Leftover Meeting Stuff:

At one point, the moderator asked Mark Nelson what his idea for fixing Davenport's problems were, if not the Promise. He attempted to refuse, saying that wasn't the issue, but Ridolfi insisted. I'm glad he insisted, because the group's name isn't Opt4Nothing, its Opt4Better. That implies an idea of what "better" is. Finally he came out with the usual Libertarian answer of school vouchers, performance-based teacher pay, and lower taxes. If only we give everyone the chance to all go to privately run schools, everything will be fine! I'm sorry, but if you add 100 kids whose parents would rather shoot at each other than raise their kids, any public OR private school is going to have trouble. When parents are the problem, its tough for the all-powerful market to solve the issue. This is why its important to bring in parents and their children who are so focused on learning that they're willing to move somewhere focused on education.

Also towards the end of the meeting Nelson trotted out the usual conspiracy theory where the school district and the city are trying to influence the results by letting people know when the informational meetings are. If the city autodialer called people to say "Vote for Promise" that would be a real issue. Instead, they told people about meetings where both sides had a chance to present their argument. I don't see how that's bad. Nelson also claimed that the School District sent out pro-Promise postcards, while Ken Croken said that those had been sent out by the Pro-Promise folks. I didn't get one, so I don't know where the truth lies on that one.

And now, Pros, Cons, Risks and Rewards: (I tried to put facts in the Pros and Cons and possibilities in the Risks and Rewards)

Promise Pro's:
-It isn't a new tax
-Some existing residents will have an easier time sending their kids to college
-$7500 towards buying a home in Davenport for graduates who enlist in the military
-Property tax cap for low income seniors and disabled folks
-More money for public safety frees up operating budget money to keep tax rates stable, at least in the short term
-Cannot give way more than 30% of LOST revenue
-Many potential rewards (see below)

Promise Con's:
-Money is initially taken away from capital improvement projects (CIP), especially parks
-Doesn't inherently "fix" the school system (although potentially brings it more $)
-Every detail doesn't seem to be worked out yet
-30% of LOST revenue may not fully cover quickly-rising college tuitions for long
-Many potential risks (see below)

Potential Risks:
-Could fail completely, no new money for schools or the city, less CIP money than now
-Could be so successful that too many people move here, ruining Davenport's livability
-Property taxes could rise, increasing assessments, and therefore increasing taxes on people not covered by the cap
-It could only attract people looking for freebies
-More kids could go to college, and not return

Potential Rewards:
-The School district could receive far more state money, allowing them to stop raising taxes locally (or even lower them? ...maybe too much to hope for) and/or providing funding to "fix" the school system
-The influx of new residents could entice new companies to consider locating here
-Property taxes could rise, increasing resale value
-The incentive to go to SCC for free may keep more kids local for 2 extra years
-Good PR for the city, allowing us to be known for something other than failures of the '80s
-Feared city tax increases could potentially be offset by decreasing school taxes, allowing the overall tax bill to remain stable
-It could only attract people concerned about their kids' education.
-More kids go to college!

All of these issues bring me to the fact that if this isn't working, it can be ended. Whether ended gradually and expensively, or quickly and cheaply, it could be voted away. Mark Nelson said Tuesday though that if this passes, people won't vote this benefit away. That should tell you everything right there.

Either way, don't forget to VOTE TOMORROW.