Davenport City Council members on Wednesday debated at length whether to use an influx of federal dollars to advance a long-planned "regional destination play area” along the riverfront, while soon-to-be displaced renters complain of an inability to find affordable housing in the city.
Davenport aldermen met as a committee of the whole Wednesday to advance a spending plan for projects that would be funded by nearly $41 million the city expects to receive from the federal government as part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.
A bulk of the federal COVID-19-relief funds would be used to create new outdoor gathering spaces over the next three years and extend the Duck Creek sanitary sewer to enable a West Locust Street business park corridor for future development.
Federal rescue dollars would also be spent on violence prevention, regional transitional housing, flood mitigation, neighborhood stabilization efforts, public WiFi hot spots and expanded early childhood literacy programs.
"Getting $40 million to spend is a big opportunity," Alderman Kyle Gripp, at-large, said. "So I think about a growing economy, strong neighborhoods, a vibrant downtown and an attractive riverfront."
In total, the spending covers more than $43 million worth of spending, leaving the city with a potential $2.1 million deficit. City Administrator Corri Spiegel and city Chief Financial Officer Mallory Merritt, however, have said they anticipate other funding opportunities and partnerships will become available at the federal, state and county levels as a result of the federal stimulus package.
While largely supportive of the draft spending plan, some aldermen said they are wary of spending the federal money to develop a flood-prone area ahead of a final report and recommendations expected this fall from a city-hired consulting firm assessing how best to protect Davenport's riverfront from flooding.
"Is it the right thing to plan," when the city is looking at a potential $2 million deficit, Alderman Ben Jobgen, Ward 6, said of spending a proposed $6 million to design and build an outdoor "Adventure Play & Event Lawn" included in city plans for the Main Street Landing project located south of the railroad tracks, east of the Skybridge.
Jobgen argues the project fails to fit into the eligibility criteria established for use of the federal dollars. The criteria states the money be invested in projects that: respond to the public health emergency or its negative economic impacts to residents, businesses and impacted industries; compensate for revenue reductions due to COVID-19; or support infrastructure projects related to water, sewer, or broadband.
Gripp, though, pointed to revised U.S. Treasury guidance that states "investments in parks, public plazas and other public outdoor recreation spaces may be done responsive to needs to disproportionately impacted communities by promoting healthier living environments and outdoor recreation and socialization to mitigate the spread of COVID-19."
"So it is absolutely a permittable use," Gripp said, who characterized criticism of the city investing millions in parks "a simplification."
"The city is investing in neighborhoods that have seen decades of disinvestment," he said. "The city is investing in crime prevention. ... The city is investing in economic development in west Davenport. And we're investing in the long-term sustainability of our central neighborhoods."
Gripp, too, framed the Main Street Landing project as a neighborhood park "for the 3,500 residents who now live in downtown Davenport," that provides an "equitable public amenity" that's "available to everyone regardless of their income."
"When I look at ARPA, the way I envision us leveraging these dollars is to build really strong, resilient neighborhoods," Gripp said. "You want to talk about government investment spurring private investment to secure our central city and our heritage neighborhoods, this is the way to get it done. This is the recipe. ... These are some of the poorest census tracts in the Quad-Cities. And we're investing in them."
Alderman Ray Ambrose, Ward 4, called the Main Street Landing project a "pipe dream" spurred by "reckless" spending in Washington, D.C.
Alderman Matt Dohrmann, Ward 5, argued such an investment would create "an economic driver" and showpiece attracting more visitors, business, investment and jobs to the riverfront and downtown. One he argues will help the Quad-Cities tourism industry and downtown small businesses recover from "the horrible losses they saw in the past year from COVID.
The city council will vote next week on final approval of the spending plan.
In other business
Aldermen approved a resolution of support for an application by the Quad Cities Chamber to the U.S. Small Business Administration for the Community Navigator Pilot Program. The focus of this program is to provide targeted outreach to specific sectors of the entrepreneurial community such as underserved, minority-owned, and industries significantly impacted by COVID-19.