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Bettendorf looks to riverfront development, puts community center on hold
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Bettendorf looks to riverfront development, puts community center on hold

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A voter referendum on whether to build a new swimming pool or community center or some combination of both in Bettendorf is off the table for now.

For several years, the city has been considering what to do with Splash Landing Aquatics Center, located at 2220 23rd St., as well as the Life Fitness Center, 2222 Middle Road, and the Herbert Goettsch Community Center, 2204 Grant St. All are at least 50 years old and need several million dollars in updates simply to maintain them as they exist today, staff has said.

Numerous options have been discussed, but a proposal has never been put to voters.

Now, with uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, a possible referendum for building won't be discussed until at least next year this time.

That was the consensus among aldermen meeting earlier this month in a multi-day goal-setting session for 2020-21, City Administrator Decker Ploehn said in an interview.

Two other big issues in the goal-setting session were possible riverfront redevelopment west of the new Interstate 74 bridge and increased police staffing.

In regard to the pool/community center question, not only has uncertainty about the pandemic made this not a good time to ask taxpayers for money, but when conditions get back to normal, maybe a big new pool where lots of people congregate in close quarters will not be what people want anymore.

"People may not want to be in crowds for a while," Ploehn said.

In the interim, the city would operate Splash Landing as usual this coming summer, if conditions allow, and consider building a "splash pad" feature somewhere in the city to provide an additional fun, summer water activity.

A splash pad installed in 2019 at Lincoln Park, 951 27th St., has proved popular, and pads can be built for $300,000 to $350,000 as compared to a full-fledged $15 million aquatics center, Ploehn said. And if the main draw of a pool is to splash around in water rather than to actually swim, then splash pads might be an alternative.

As for the community center on State Street, the council likely will put out a "request for proposals" from developers interested in buying the building and repurposing it, or buying it, demolishing it and building something new on the site, Mayor Robert Gallagher said.

"It's a pretty desirable site," he said. "It could be a pretty cool development," especially with its proximity to the downtown that is changing to be a more active and residential location.

At present the community center is closed except for a food pantry and meeting space for an addictions group. All other activities have been shifted to the Life Fitness Center, which has been able to accommodate them, Ploehn said.

Staff will work with the food pantry and addictions group to try to find alternative sites for their operations, he said.

Riverfront development

West of the Interstate 74 bridge, in an area bounded by Leach Park on the south, 12th Street on the west, Grant Street on the north and the bridge on the east there is an area of commercial, industrial and public right-of-way amounting to 15-20 acres that might be redeveloped into something else, Ploehn said.

Several entities have expressed interest. "We've had some tire-kickers," Ploehn said.

The area will become more desirable with the building of an urban park directly under the bridge and construction of a city-owned ramp leading to a recreational trail that will be built alongside the bridge span heading into Moline. The trail will create a pedestrian connection between the two cities for the first time in decades.

The council wants to watch the riverfront area closely to ensure that it redevelops in a way that enhances the city, Ploehn said.

Almost all of the land is owned by private individuals, but "our hope is that" it might develop into other uses such as entertainment and dining that would give people "reasons to live, work and play downtown," Gallagher said.

Police, fire staffing

With explosive growth in the northeast part of the city, including the TBK Bank Sports Complex, adjoining businesses and housing, there is a need for increased police protection.

The city expects to add three additional officers this fiscal year; two already have been hired.

It's not that crime is increasing; in fact, the city's crime rate has been basically the same for the past 30 years and "that's a great thing," Gallagher said. But with more development there needs to be more presence.

And the city already has ramped up its fire protection capabilities with the hiring of three additional full-time firefighters who already are on board and another three who will be hired Feb. 1.

The goal is that the Surrey Heights station at Crow Creek and Middle roads should have at least two full-time firefighters at the station 24/7. Previously it was staffed only with volunteers during the nighttime hours. In July 2019, Matt Brown, 27, died of an asthma attack and his parents, Robert and Jodi Brown, attributed his death, at least in part, to lack of staffing the night of the attack because help had to come from the downtown, which took additional time.

To pay for the additional firefighters, the city this year increased its property tax levy.

Other priorities

• Make flood buyouts. The city has money to purchase 22 homes prone to flooding along Duck Creek. Three to four are ready to close soon, Ploehn said. They will then be demolished.

• Continue to meet with representatives of Davenport, LeClaire and Scott County about future annexation of land north of Interstate 80. The current plan — with no date set — would be for Bettendorf to annex land north to Territorial Road by Argo, west to at least Utica Ridge Road and east to some place compatible with LeClaire or Wells Ferry Road, Ploehn said.

The last time Bettendorf annexed land was in 1968, he said.

• Hire a consultant to assess all the city's computer hardware and software for possible updating.

• Hire more employees to do code enforcement of properties, including residential rental units.

• Launch a "Bettendorf is a Great Place to Live" social media campaign that might lure some former Bettendorf and Pleasant Valley graduates now living in Minneapolis, Des Moines, Kansas City or Chicago back to Bettendorf.

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