Rhythm City barge

Using a crane, crews from Newt Marine Service of Dubuque remove the first of three ramps from the former Rhythm City Casino barge Thursday. Once the barge is freed from the shore, it will be taken to Keokuk, opening up the Davenport riverfront for new uses.

Kevin E. Schmidt, QUAD-CITY TIMES

The canvas for the nine miles of city-controlled land along Davenport’s riverfront is so wide that Mayor Frank Klipsch’s map barely can contain it all.

The uses and amenities are as diverse as the land itself. It is end-pointed by a private-access marina upstream and wetlands and industrial areas downstream.

Sandwiched in between are established or prime opportunities for recreational amenities. At the center, the land around the Davenport skybridge, dubbed Main Street Landing, is getting most of the city's attention.

Davenport officials have, for decades, planned and replanned what they want the riverfront to look like via the RiverVision development guide.

Gone are ideas for a land-based riverfront casino and hotel that was present in 2004 RiverVision, which was a bistate plan at the time.

Gone is Todd Raufeisen's plan to redevelop the former Dock Restaurant, which was demolished in 2015. Raufeisen's proposal was part of the RiverVision 2014 update.

Now, the former Rhythm City Casino barge is ready to head downstream, setting the stage for a return to Main Street Landing and another tweaking of RiverVision.

What a difference a year makes

One year ago, elected officials in Davenport gave river-based development another chance at the site of the former Rhythm City Casino barge, despite the most recent RiverVision accounting for its departure.

Aldermen said they were looking for ideas that screamed “world-class riverfront.”

The city received proposals that, while good, did not possess the “wow factor” Mayor Frank Klipsch said he wanted. So, instead, the council opted to focus on the development of more land-based amenities. To start that process, the barge and porte cochere had to go.

In November, they said March 31 was the deadline for departure or demolition.

But March 31 came and went, and beyond higher river levels, there was little movement on the water.

No one was willing to fork over $399,500 to purchase the barge, so Rhythm City decided to donate it to a city in eastern Iowa.

Then, May 31 became the new deadline.

But the city of Clinton passed on the donation, citing transportation and maintenance of the barge as cost-prohibitive. The city of Keokuk then opened its hands to accept the barge and remove the obligation from Rhythm City.

High river levels, a surge in barge traffic and higher than anticipated estimates to move the barge temporarily halted its progress in June and July. But the porte cochere was demolished, and the barge is heading for Keokuk.

Today, the canvas is clean.

Expectations for Main Street

While the lack of movement of the barge may have given the impression that development was stagnant, steps were being taken to begin work on Main Street Landing.

The spot known as N5 by city planners — the lot directly across River Drive from the Radisson Quad-City Plaza — is becoming a landscaped multi-use area for food trucks, festivals and events, and relaxation.

City Administrator Corri Spiegel said city design architect Zach Peterson is working on ideas for the area, pending the design standards that are being developed for the entire Main Street area.

“He can get a lot of the base design done and put the elements on top of it,” Spiegel said.

The city hired Dubuque-based RDG Planning and Design to develop design standards for the area, including appropriate materials and fixtures to be used, so the entire area has a cohesive appearance.

Spiegel said the design standards are expected to be completed by December and likely will be one of the first items approved by the new City Council in January.

The parking lot farthest east of the skybridge will stay, supporting other amenities and activities on River Drive.

As for the remaining pieces of Main Street Landing, a public discussion of what they will look like is to take place in coming months.

“We will probably start that conversation in the fourth quarter this year,” Spiegel said. “Once we get the budget in January, the (Capital Improvement Plan) is already done at that point.”

The hope is for the northern stretch to attract activity, and Klipsch said he hopes for something “with a lot of color and excitement” and “something for the whole family.”

He said a sculpture garden always was part of RiverVision, so he has engaged the Figge Art Museum to bring forward ideas.

“I was just talking with the people at the Figge the other day, because we want to coordinate and see where their interest lies and what type of art, not just statues, but some kind of interactive art can be developed,” Klipsch said.

Developments on the other 8-plus miles

As Davenport looks to develop another space to draw people downtown, it has other possibilities for city-controlled riverfront.

To the west, it's been more than six years since Veterans Memorial Park was dedicated, but progress has come to a halt.

Earlier this year, Friend of Veterans Memorial Park President Bill Churchill unveiled a $1.5 million estimate for elements of phase II, including a formal entryway, improvements to the main plaza and river overlook. Bush Construction volunteered around $215,000 of work to get the project moving.

While the park isn't expected to hit the $1.5 million fundraising mark this year, the city has applied for a $300,000 Resource Enhancement and Protection, or REAP, grant from the state of Iowa, which may kick-start at least one element of the project.

“With that possibility of getting $300,000, we decided to go for just the river overlook on the next phase of our park,” Churchill said. “We have received an update of costs for just this part of the project from Bush Construction.

“The River Overlook is a $500,000 project, so if we get the REAP grant, we'll have a great start on making the river overlook a reality. We will then apply to the RDA (Regional Development Authority) and the SCRA (Scott County Regional Authority) for grants, and then ask the city of Davenport to complete the funding necessary to complete this phase of our project.”

Parks and Recreation Director Scott Hock said the city expects to know the results of the grant application by October.

Union Station plan faces setback

Members of the Riverfront Improvement Commission thought they found a tenant to replace the Quad-Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau at Union Station, but a proposal to add restaurants to the main building and the former Package Express has gone dark.

Development Director Steve Ahrens said chef Matthew Fenton has decided not to lease the spaces for restaurants, citing high costs. Now that the proposal is off the table, Ahrens said he is looking for the “highest, best use” and soon will issue an RFP, or request for proposals.

“We’re going to keep it pretty non-specific when we issue the RFP and talk about their spaces and dimensions,” he said.

While the commission will have to wait on a new tenant, improvements to the building's trim are budgeted for this year. Other improvements, such as the replacement of a pair of doors, may be delayed, depending on the needs of a future tenant.

Ahrens said he doesn't expect to identify a new tenant until the end of the year.

Oneida back in business

While development prospects at Union Station faltered, Oneida Marina may have lucked out in finding a new tenant for 935 E. River Drive.

The Riverfront Improvement Commission has entered into a 33-month lease with Marine Specialties, operated by Chad and Kathy Ruggeberg, for a portion of the space, where two previous tenants fell behind in rent.

First, Top Shelf Marine and Repair, which was operated by Tom Wakeen, fell behind $18,000 in rent, which still has not been recovered.

More recently, Gerald Welvaert fell behind $11,000 in rent and asked to terminate his lease after financing failed for a restaurant and bar at the marina.

The commission voted to seek a legal remedy against Welvaert after it could not come to agreement on a payment plan for the back rent.

While Marine Specialties is leasing one building, the crane area and about 30,000 square feet of hard surface area, Ahrens said a prospective bidder for a contract with the Rock Island Arsenal has expressed interest in renting the remaining area for storage and staging.

Davenport interested in cruise business

They may not be the operators Davenport has been waiting for, but the domestic-cruise industry is making an aggressive push up the Mississippi River.

For years, Davenport has talked about becoming a port-of-call for Viking River Cruises when it makes its U.S debut, but the cruise line's foray has been stalled by the Merchant Marine Act of 1920. Also known as the Jones Act, the federal measure requires boats on U.S. waterways be built in the U.S and crewed by Americans.

While Viking has yet to reach an agreement with a shipyard, Klipsch said, more and more domestic operations have expressed interest in the city, including docking by Moline-based Celebration Belle.

“I met with the American Steamboat Co. and Viking people in Washington, D.C., and they still think this a gigantic market in the United States, and they see it growing substantially,” Klipsch said. “We have the Louisiane, American Queen, Queen of the Mississippi, which are the main ones, too. The Celebration Belle, too, is an opportunity to come west of the Lock and Dam (15).”

Incremental development in Davenport's future

The departure of the barge and porte cochere at Main Street Landing should not suggest a replacement project will come overnight.

As history has shown, development on the riverfront comes in increments.

Senior Planning Manager Matt Flynn said, with the exception of a $1 billion project like Millennium Park in Chicago, the days of the massive public project are largely over.

“Nine miles of riverfront would even be difficult to program for even a community like Chicago,” Flynn said. “That just reinforces that whole question that we need to be selective in terms of where and how and what type of development we want along our river corridor.”

From a recreational standpoint, Davenport has parks and other amenities on the riverfront, which Klipsch said are the result of many groups pushing for more funding.

If the city were to complete every park, he said, it could cost around $200 million.

Besides the award-winning Modern Woodman Park, the riverfront features Credit Island Park and Natural Historic Preserve, Centennial Park, Veterans Memorial Park, LeClaire Park and River Heritage Park.

“If you look at a lot of cities and the type of parks they offer — nature preserves, ball field areas, soccer fields, fishing areas — all of that is along our riverfront in one continuous stretch almost,” Hock said.

By exploring public-private partnerships, the mayor said, projects could move more swiftly, because the city cannot finance them all and still commit resources to day-to-day operations.

“We’re all committed to having it done, but it’s just a matter of when we can have it done,” Klipsch said. “When you are balancing things against streets, sewers and infrastructure or a variety of projects, they’re all important, but where do they fit?”