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Seven months after historic flooding, Davenport's Front Street pub finally reopens
Flood of 2019

Seven months after historic flooding, Davenport's Front Street pub finally reopens

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The popular Davenport brewery already was in big trouble before the breach in the downtown levee on April 30.

Floodwater had been creeping up through floor drains, sewers — any opening it could find.

When a section in the row of flood-fighting HESCO barriers on River Drive suddenly shifted, then collapsed, the cold, muddy force it had been holding back was unleashed to flow through lower downtown. Front Street Pub was among many unworthy opponents in its path.

Water gushed from building to building, winding though alleys and over parked cars as if racing for higher ground.

More than six months after the HESCO collapse that damaged some neighboring businesses beyond repair, Front Street is declaring victory.

A $400,000 rebuild has it back in business, and an official grand opening, including free beer tasting, is set for Dec. 4.

Tim Baldwin and his two business partners have owned Front Street for just a few years, and they were counting on the city's flood-protection system to spare most of their property. The HESCO-barrier system had worked well for Davenport, Baldwin said, and they had no reason to think the Flood of 2019 would be any different.

"The city screwed up," he said. "They didn't build the HESCOs high enough."

One of about two dozen downtown business owners and others who joined Mayor Frank Klipsch's so-called Flood Task Force, Baldwin regarded the handful of meetings as little more than a pacifier — a "dog and pony show" to give the damaged and suffering the impression something was being done to make sure damage and suffering didn't visit again.

Despite the disappointments in the city's handling of the flood and its fallout, the Front Street team decided to stay put. Some others moved and a few walked away entirely.

Fortunately, insurance covered about 80% of the cost of rebuilding the bar and restaurant and a good part of the additional $300,000 it took to repair Baldwin's neighboring office building.

"The real big kicker for us at the restaurant has been lost revenue during our busiest season — about $200,000 in profit over seven months that basically represents a year's worth of profit," Baldwin said. "Insurance doesn't cover that.

"Some of the other business owners talked about bailouts and demands on the city to protect private property. But the city doesn't give anybody money. Taxpayers do," he said.

So, the partners dug in, put the insurance proceeds to work, hired back about 95% of the staffers who had to find other work over the summer and got Front Street off its knees and back on its feet. Part of the new rollout is a continuing effort to rebrand the long-popular business.

Previous owners didn't distribute the beer they brewed, but Baldwin and partners Pat Sherman and Nate Sobotka are distributing "far and wide" from their brewery at the Freight House several blocks west of the original restaurant on River Drive, which now bears the name Front Street Pub & Eatery.

Baldwin said a few weeks of a soft-opening approach will help the owners and staff identify things they might be missing — flood-damaged inventory that had to be pitched and hasn't yet been replaced. Given that everything in the building had to be thrown out, specific items, such as certain spices, won't be missed until business really gets going.

"Between now and Dec. 4, please just bear with us," he said. "Everything's brand new, and we've been working through the kinks."

He said the city's recent removal of concrete planters outside of Front Street on River Drive will create more space for efforts that will better prepare for the next rise of the river. Despite Front Street's losses, Baldwin said, he learned from a presentation on the mayor's task force that the Flood of '19 could have been even worse.

"There was a 50% chance we could have reached 27.5 feet (the record crest was 22.7 feet)," he said. "That's Biblical. It would have consumed the downtown. It would have been catastrophic."

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