Monday, February 22, 2016

Let's not screw up our riverfront again, or Just Say No to Ugly Barges

I'm hoping to start blogging a bit more, as the QCTimes is pretty much ceasing to function as a source of accurate local info, and there is a mountain of stuff going on. It's not quite "Alderman Drunkenly Crashes into Train"-level stuff, but we're getting there.

My case for not ruining LeClaire Park

In 2004, the first River Vision process brought hundreds of community members together to plan what would become Centennial and Crescent (now Veterans Memorial) Parks on the Davenport side, and Rock Island's riverfront as well. Much of the transformation that has happened between Gaines and Marquette Streets came from those meetings and plans. At the final River Vision meeting the consultant working on the plan, Hargreaves out of Boston, revealed a small red rectangle on the map that indicated a 12 story casino hotel at the foot of Brady Street. This was quite a bombshell to the general public, especially those of us that had attended all of the planning meetings where it was never mentioned. I'd imagine that it was considerably less surprising to the insiders, but that's how things always work.

Fast forward a decade to 2014, and the Isle of Capri corporation had failed to follow through on any of its promises to Davenport, and Davenport's riverfront east of Modern Woodmen Park looked just as crappy as it did in 2004. Along comes somewhat unreliable developer Todd Raufeisen, with a plan to finally replace the crumbling and abandoned Dock restaurant with a new structure including restaurants, reception, and office space. Building a flood-proof, attractive building on the riverfront would not be cheap, so this plan would have required both city incentives and the added office space to make the financial aspect viable. However, there is a vocal group of Davenport residents that don't want to see any development, much less a 5 story office/restaurant complex, built south of River Drive. Many on the Levee Commission cried, "Think of the River Vision plan!," apparently forgetting that the River Vision plan included a 12 story hotel, parking garage, and casino complex at the same location.

So the City brought back Hargreaves for a whole new set of meetings on what to do with the riverfront, focusing mainly on the area between the stadium and the Arsenal Bridge. I attended some of these meetings as well, but they didn't seem to draw the same enthusiasm that the 2004 process had. (Lack of trust after the last second hotel addition last time?) Hargreaves explained that bringing some restaurants to the riverfront would bring more people to the riverfront at more times of day and week than now. They also explained that the smaller the building built, the higher percentage of city money that would be required, due to the economy of scale and developer profit margins. Some of the don't-build-anything crowd seemed to reluctantly admit that a much smaller building than the 80,000 square feet Raufeisen had proposed, could possibly be ok.

So Hargreaves came out with a final plan, potentially directed by the city to include a restaurant building replacing the Dock, that many people felt was a pretty good compromise. It also included a pier coming out from either Main Street, or aligned with the Skybridge. That plan is available in PDF form here. The QCTimes, after the plan was complete, noticed that there was a raised walkway referred to in the plan as a belvedere, connecting the Skybridge to the new Dock area. They proceeded to throw a complete fit, in editorials and columns, about this new floodwall that Craig Malin supposedly wanted to build. If they had attended the meetings, they'd have known about it earlier, but actual journalism seems to be prohibitively expensive these days.

Regardless of the belvedere drama, veto drama, or crazy skybridge restaurant drama, Raufeisen failed to meet his deadlines for tearing down the old Dock, and former-Mayor Gluba, who had been opposed to the project all along, finally was able to convince the council to pull the plug on the whole thing. Meanwhile, Gluba had announced that Viking River Cruises planned to include Davenport as a stop on their newly-announced Mississippi River cruises. So now, after rushing into a new River Vision process because of the possibility of restaurant development, the city began rushing into a plan to accommodate the Viking cruise ships. There's been reluctance by some on the council to spend a lot of money on this, and then a new council, new mayor, and one less City Administrator have led to not much progress happening. They did manage to tear down the old Dock. The fact that the whole Viking thing was one of Gluba's biggest talking points probably isn't motivating new-Mayor Klipsch to push very hard for it either.

Now Alderman Boom, who has always been a friend to downtown, is pushing an idea he's had for a while, which is to acquire the barge that the casino "boat" is currently connected to, and use that as a dock for the Viking ships. This is probably my least favorite idea ever to come from Bill Boom. Nowhere in the new River Vision plan do we see a horribly ugly building-on-a-barge sitting in the center of our riverfront. If we really need an interim dock while we build a world-class pier, Oneida landing would work for a year or two. That brings me to my next point, which is the false sense of urgency that some are giving this project. Viking River Cruises, from what I can tell, has not even started construction on any of their Mississippi "longboat" cruise ships. This article indicates that they've pushed back their plans until 2018.

So, in conclusion (congrats if you've made it this far), we need to take a step back, and look at the entire LeClaire Park as a whole, and decide what is best for the next 50-100 years, rather than lurching from one shiny object to the next. In my opinion, this means a beautiful pier suitable for riverboat docking, a small, architecturally significant building housing one or more restaurants where the Dock used to be, and basically following the River Vision plan for tying everything together. We don't want to end up with the same kind of mess we've had on the riverfront for the last 25 years.