Jon Keim has vivid memories of the fire that broke out in the 200 block of Rock Island's 18th Street on the morning of Sept. 27, 2014. 

Keim, the owner Huckleberry's Great Pizza and Calzones at 223 18th Street, and his girlfriend, Delia Herrera, watched as the flames that began in a vacant building that once housed the Mississippi Cafe spread, destroying eight other buildings before it was put out by Rock Island firefighters. 

"We thought it was going to take building after building, because that's the direction it was taking," Keim said Wednesday at the 29th annual Hard Hat awards hosted by the Development Association of Rock Island. 

"I just had this wave come over me, 'It's all gone. It's going to be gone,'" Keim said, adding that it would have wiped out 26 years of hard work. 

Keim and Herrera, however, have spent the last two years rebuilding and their efforts not only saved their dream, it earned them the 2017 Mayor & City Council Trophy at the event. 

Gathered at Skellington Manor in downtown Rock Island, city, business and community leaders were on hand as 25 businesses, individuals and organizations were recognized for the commitments they made to strengthen Rock Island in 2017.

"We have demonstrated in our 35-year history that our community-driven efforts have consistently been directed at creating jobs, supporting neighborhoods and strengthening the community fabric in ways that sustain and promote long-term viable economic success," said Brian Hollenback, president and CEO of Renaissance Rock Island, DARI's parent organization. 

The 2017 Hard Hat awards had plenty of investments and supporters to celebrate including four new program launches:

  • The new Downtown Rock Island Partnership was created as a joint effort between DARI, The District and its new downtown storefront location. The successful event year saw more than 10,000 visitors to the downtown.
  • SEED Rock Island now is providing financial support for entrepreneurs through loan and grant funds.
  • A new regional Housing & Financial Education Center was opened at 114 19th St. this year. The center provides fair and equal access to housing, home buyer education and financial literacy resources, including foreclosure prevention.
  • Enhanced Single Family Programs were re-introduced after two years in an effort to advance neighborhood stabilization efforts and benefit some of the most vulnerable populations.

Another milestone being celebrated was 30 new home buyers who used the Live-Work Rock Island employer-assisted housing program. Launched in 2003, the program has benefited 313 home buyers and provided $1.6 million in direct down payment and closing cost assistance to DARI member employees since its inception. The program also has generated more than $31 million in real estate transactions in the city.

Hollenback said a year ago "we told the Rock Island community that the universe was laid at our feet with the announcement of $45 million in New Market Tax Credit authority awarded to our community development entity, Central States Development Partners. This year we are proud to show visible result of our national work, that is directly benefiting Rock Island through new investment...," he said.

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