Proposed plan to revitalize downtown Rock Island met with optimism and criticism

The Special Service Area would increase business owners taxes over the next five years.
Published: Aug. 2, 2022 at 9:55 PM CDT
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ROCK ISLAND, Ill. (KWQC) - On July 25, the Rock Island City Council held a study session for a proposed Special Service Area (SSA) to help revitalize downtown Rock Island with property owners taking the majority of the hit when it comes to how the project would be funded.

The study session ran long and continued into the city council meeting and as the presentation and evening went on, more questions and concerns were raised by several city council members.

The biggest issue was the breakdown of the proposed budget. Although it was a draft, it still was a cause for concern for some alderman. The breakdown of the budget can be seen below:

Proposed SSA budget breakdown (July  2022)
Proposed SSA budget breakdown (July 2022)(KWQC Staff)

Jack Cullen, the Director of Downtown Rock Island, says the proposed plan has been put together by a large majority of the business owners in downtown Rock Island and it gives the property owners what they want.

“As property owners will be the primary funders of this downtown management organization,” Cullen said. “They’re also the ones that are able to exert control over the types of services and activities that are provided by the organization. Again, there will be a governing board of directors primarily made up of property owners that will oversee the investments of their funding into the various services and activities that this organization will perform.”

Fifth ward alderman Dylan Parker who represents much of downtown Rock Island has been working closely with the Quad Cities Chamber and Cullen on this project. Since the meeting on Monday, Parker has had the chance to speak with his fellow alderman about the presentation.

“I have spoken with my colleagues a number of times since Monday,” Parker said. “More and more of us are in agreement that the proposal as it was proposed Monday night, is the best idea for downtown Rock Island. We’re listening to our constituents and I’m pretty confident that the proposal will be successful this year.”

Some alderman, such as third alderman Judith Gilbert, felt that the presentation given on Monday proved to strike more questions rather than provide the answers the council was looking for. Gilbert provided TV6 with a statement regarding the presentation. The full statement is below:

I continue to have immense concerns about the chamber’s proposal which is lacking in specific details and deliverables as do many downtown businesses who have spoken to me.

The chamber has not provided sufficient detail on their proposed budget. They want 44% or $235,000 of the $535,000 total budget for two chamber salaries (directors) and chamber overhead, not for any direct services to the downtown businesses. The private contributions are going solely to pay for the chamber's management fee. There must be a better use for those contributions.

I have not seen any plan that addresses services identified in the budget. Who will be the providers for graffiti removal, snow removal, the “Clean and Safe Ambassador,” etc?

I believe it needs to be asked if there is any other nonprofit or for profit organization out there that can deliver the needed services and for less money. The city should issue a Request for Proposals for downtown management.

There has been an inability for the chamber to answer basic questions about their plans for Rock Island and a lack of transparency on the chamber’s part both in their process of contacting (some) property owners and the information that was conveyed to those who have to pay the tax. We have not heard from 75% of the property owners.

Is the chamber’s plan the highest and best value for the downtown services that are needed? And if the chamber cannot fulfill their promises, how does the city unwind itself from this costly contract?

Judith Gilbert, 3rd Ward Alderman for the City of Rock Island

The proposed timeline for the project is below as a vote is expected at the next Rock Island City Council meeting on Aug. 8.

Phase 1

Aug. 8 and 22: Initiating ordinance first and second readings

Phase 2

Oct. 24: Public hearing and establishing ordinance first reading

Oct. 25: 60-day period for objection petitions to be submitted begins

Nov. 7: Establishing ordinance second reading and current contract extension

Phase 3

Dec. 23: 60-day period for objection petition to be submitted ends

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