Residents of a neighborhood just up from the Village of East Davenport have founded a neighborhood association — Davenport's newest — with several key goals, including keeping a section of street open and improving housing stock.
In choosing the name Village Heights, residents hope for positive associations with the established names of "the Village" and "the Heights," the more widely known, and generally well-regarded neighborhoods located to the south and the east, association president Chris Barnard said.
The tag line to Village Heights is "history with a view."
A signature feature of the neighborhood is an 1880s wooden railroad overpass bridge that spans a deep ravine at 13th Street to carry vehicular traffic over the railroad through the neighborhood, down to the arterial Kirkwood Boulevard, or down Mound Street to the Village of East Davenport.
If this overpass bridge were declared unsafe and had to be closed or restricted to one lane, that would create a major inconvenience for residents, especially those on the west side of the tracks, Barnard said.
The latest inspection found the overpass bridge to be in such poor condition that the recommendation is for the structure "to be completely replaced in the near future," Davenport city engineer Brian Schadt said in an email.
Because the overpass bridge is now owned by the Canadian Pacific Railroad, replacement would be the railroad's responsibility and the city has requested its plan, Schadt said. "Discussions are ongoing," he added.
The overpass bridge originally was built by the Davenport & St. Paul Railroad Co. as part of an agreement with the city to build the railroad, according to an 1873 news story in the Daily Davenport Democrat, dug up by residents.
The agreement said that the company would build an overpass bridge "so sloped that loaded teams can easily pass over the same." By that is meant loaded teams of horses. The agreement did not envision motorized school buses or trucks, which is a concern of residents, Barnard said.
Andy Cummings, manager of media relations for the railroad, did not address specific questions from the Times regarding replacement or to what standards the overpass bridge needs to be maintained.
"CP inspects and maintains the 13th Street bridge," he wrote in an email. "We have no further comment."
The railroad tracks that the street passes over are those that originate at Iowa-American Water on the Davenport riverfront, cross over East River Drive, continue north to the Eastern Iowa Industrial Center and finally reach Eldridge.
Alderman Rita Rawson, 5th Ward, said she supports the neighborhood association in its endeavors, and her preference would be to have the historic overpass bridge repaired and preserved.
Meantime, many people including wedding parties and high school photographers are drawn to the overpass bridge because of its views, and neighbors try to keep the area tidy.
Housing is challenge, opportunity
While the overpass bridge and keeping the street open are key concerns of the new neighborhood association, so are property values and improving the area's housing stock.
At present, there are 12 vacant homes in the neighborhood boundaries, according to an estimate by Brook Hayes-Upton, finance director for Neighborhood Housing Services, or NHS, a nonprofit agency that works to rebab homes.
NHS recently rehabbed a home at 1804 E. 13th St. that already has been purchased and is occupied.
Association members hope to keep that reinvestment rolling and to be aware of opportunities for grants/historic tax credits to encourage investment.
Next to Barnard's house, for example, is a boarded-up, Craftsman-style home that he suggested might be purchased for around $20,000. With another $50,000 for renovation, one could have a great house with a view of the river. "Where else can you get this in Davenport?" Barnard said.
He and others hope that as young tenants of the recently refurbished Pierce School Lofts — located within the association boundaries — get to thinking about buying a house with a yard and a dog, that they find the Village Heights area appealing.
The area also contains a vacant lot or two that would be ripe for new construction, Barnard said.
"It's amazing what you can get in our neighborhood with a view of the river and with the Village and the bike path close by," he said.
Association members also want to work with the city to find ways to mitigate the problem of "delinquent" properties or those that, while they may not be vacant, are behind on their property taxes.