Rock Island focus group discusses tourism and COVID relief funds

Published: Oct. 31, 2022 at 10:22 PM CDT
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ROCK ISLAND, Ill. (KWQC) - Rock Island leaders held a focus group to brainstorm how the city should use a share of COVID relief funds on tourism.

Last year, the city received $26.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds. Earlier in October, city leaders recommended that $250,000 of those funds be used to help attract more visitors.

Visit Quad Cities Vice President of Marketing and Communications, Charlotte Doehler-Morrison started Monday’s focus group with some goals for the region.

“The highest year we had for visitation was 2019,” Doehler-Morrison said. “Our goal is to reach that 2019 [number]. Across the board, Iowa [and] Illinois are still reporting lower numbers.”

Panelists touched on topics ranging from improving hotels to attracting more retail spaces for visitors to shop at.

Third-ward Alderwoman Judith Gilbert and others said the city needs to focus on packaging all of those resources together.

“We have a tremendous number of tourism assets,” Gilbert said. “Perhaps we need to inventory all of them not just events, but attractions.”

While the group was meant to hone in on tourism specific to Rock Island, they acknowledged it should be a regional conversation.

Director of the QC International Airport, Ben Leischner, said maybe the region needs to market better to major cities within driving distance.

“To get our name the, Quad Cities, out of the Quad Cities,” Leischner said. “Everybody in the Quad Cities knows what’s here. I think our target area is that Milwaukee, Chicago, anywhere from that four-hour drive distance, in.”

In order to bring in more tourists, Brett Hitchcock, owner of Circa ‘21 said the city needs to make downtown feel safer.

“[Downtown should be] cleaned up so that people feel safe coming down here or opening a business down here and know their patrons are not going to be harassed,” Hitchcock said.

According to City Clerk and ARPA manager, Samantha Gange, since the city is claiming these funds as lost revenue, there is no time limit on when they need to spend them.

The city also held similar focus groups for mental health and homelessness, earlier in the month. Both of those categories are also recommended to receive $250,000.