Davenporters snip a ribbon today on a preservationist's dream come true. A long-vacant, decaying historic school building gets new life as an apartment building. The 114-year-old Taylor School at 901 W. 15th St. has been renovated into Taylor Renaissance apartments, a project funded by private investors, state tax credits and local incentives, in that order.
A dangerous, dilapidated eyesore dragging down a central city neighborhood now is a renovated, affordable apartment building elevating an entire neighborhood. Renaissance Realty Group of Chicago completed the $11 million makeover just four years after a previous developer, Chris Ales, declared the project dead. Ales' request for tax credits was declined by Iowa officials, forcing Davenport, preservationists and neighbors back to square one. Armed with strong neighborhood support and some local incentives, the project attracted the Chicago firm. Now Renaissance is proceeding with a makeover of the former Jackson Elementary, 1400
W. 16th St.
Today's grand opening has to lift the hopes of Rock Islanders. Preservationists in that city have been given two months to convince aldermen to sink another $221,000 into the crumbling Lincoln School, 2125 7th Ave. That $221,000 won't improve the old school one whit. It merely delays the decay that's well under way.
For 30 years, this vacant school has suffered slow demolition because of neglect. A succession of hopeful investors got nowhere, until the property went into foreclosure and was purchased by the city. Even under city ownership, the property continued to decay. "We have failed to live by the rules that we expect other people to live by," Alderman Joy Murphy, 6th Ward, said at Monday's council meeting.
Neglect takes more out of Quad-City historic structures than wrecking balls.
Rock Island's two-month deadline is a sensible solution for a building that's suffered greatly during its 30-year reprieve from the wrecking ball since the Rock Island-Milan school district shut it down in 1980. Those 30 years of neglect are not without cost.
That decaying school certainly didn't attract homeowners to the surrounding neighborhood, suppressing equity appreciation for existing homeowners. Quite likely it has discouraged others from even considering investments in the neighborhood, which is chock-full of 100-year-old homes. So the imperative to preserve one old building negatively influenced dozens and dozens of others.
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Rock Island residents and city leaders continue to be wonderful stewards of history, designating historic districts and providing grants and loans to encourage preservation. We recall some ardent support for the Rock Island Armory, an important piece of city riverfront history. In the end, the armory's preservation was properly balanced with public interest. In that case, the armory gave way to a terrific park that required demolition of some history, but served to restore and preserve downtown Rock Island's linkage to a riverfront obstructed by modern development.
The potential loss of Lincoln School hardly leaves Rock Island short on historic structures. Another 169 remain on the city's list, including Illinois' first Christian Science sanctuary right across the street from Lincoln School. That 96-year-old building is in much better shape, thought it's been vacant at least 17 years. It too, lacks any restoration plan.
We're hopeful Rock Islanders might be inspired by Davenport's success. But the city and preservationists have had 30 years to come up with a plan. In two more months, aldermen should be able to tell taxpayers if another $221,000 helps fund a sustainable preservation plan, or simply buys another decade of slow decay.