Define "improvement."

That's the charge of Davenport's new-look Levee Improvement Commission, now that yet another leasee, Quad-Cities Food Hub, is about to close. 

Reshaping the Levee Commission this past summer was a political compromise, a deal that staved off the century-old lease management body's castration at the hands of Mayor Frank Klipsch. It was a political victory for Levee Commission members. But it also flooded the commission with new members, plucked directly by city council members instead of the mayor.

Suddenly, the Levee Commission wasn't just a place mayors stuck political allies and environmentalists. In a very real, practical sense, Davenport Levee Commission's charge has changed.

Anything else will result in the Levee Commission becoming a drain on the rank-and-file taxpayer. 

Unfortunately, that reality is setting in slowly for some commission members whose service pre-dates the board's overhaul. Just last month, Commissioner Bill Ashton lashed out at Front Street Brewery, which leases space in the Freight House for its beer brewing operation. The stacked kegs were "unsightly," Ashton said. Front Street should take its business elsewhere, he said.

"If they want to brew that much beer, then they should have to go somewhere else," he said.

In short, Ashton would boot a successful, popular business from the riverfront, costing the Levee Commission revenue -- because it doesn't square with his own personal aesthetic. 

Ashton's comments reflect an anachronistic philosophy, one that would lead the Levee Commission to financial ruin. It's anti-business and, thereby, anti-taxpayer. It's a definition of "improvement" that considers business an enemy. 

On the contrary, commissioner, a string of successful, popular businesses operating interspersed among Davenport's parks and recreational trails would constitute an "improvement." 

Already, though, the Levee Commission's new members rejected Ashton's gripes and pushed back. Former Scott County Administrator Dee Bruemmer, admitted that she was new to the Levee Commission and still learning. But then she fired back at Ashton, arguing that any conversations with Front Street should be "positive." She lauded the brewery for its investment in the riverfront. She rightly pointed out the Front Street's success is a distinctly positive development for Davenport.

The Levee Commission's evolution is long overdue. As industry abandoned the riverfront and leases died off, members became increasingly involved with issues outside their mandate. The Levee Commission was never intended to be an environmental regulator. 

A slew of new political appointees and the Food Hub's pending closure lays bare the problem facing the body. Long-term financial viability and the continued success of Davenport's downtown hinge on a new definition of what constitutes "improvement."

Davenport Levee Commission -- facing a cash crisis -- must shift its focus, now. It must reject the notion that business and greenspace are mutually exclusive. For its own good, it must become a marketing agency for the RiverCenter, the Freight House and a soon-to-be vacant lots surrounding the Kraft Heinz plant.

The parks and bike trails have been important additions to the riverfront. So, too, is the commitment of long-term Levee Commission members public to facilities, such as the bandshell in LeClaire Park. But the festering sentiment that Davenport's riverfront should be nothing but grass and walking paths should be scrubbed from member's minds. It's an out-of-date position that threatens the upkeep and improvement of the very public facilities members hold so dear. It also imperils the Levee Commission's financial health.

Local editorials represent the opinion of the Quad-City Times editorial board, which consists of Publisher Deb Anselm, Executive Editor Autumn Phillips, Editorial Page Editor Jon Alexander, Associate Editor Bill Wundram and community representative John Wetzel.

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