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'The tipping point for downtown shifting into another gear': Hotel Blackhawk at 10 years old
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'The tipping point for downtown shifting into another gear': Hotel Blackhawk at 10 years old

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The first decade of the Hotel Blackhawk's second life has been remarkable from the start.

When about $40 million in renovations at the landmark downtown Davenport hotel were unveiled in December 2010, the impact was nearly immediate.

Developers had been skeptical of the profitability of downtown investment, but Amy and Amrit Gill — owners of Restoration St. Louis — calmed fears as they helped clear the way for others to follow their financial lead.

As Kyle Carter of the Downtown Davenport Partnership recalled it, the city was coming off one period of growth when the Gills helped deliver another.

From 2000 to 2010, the redevelopment plan known as River Renaissance brought the Figge Art Museum, River Music Experience (RME), the skybridge, parking ramps, Adler Theatre expansion and other major improvements.

"The renovation and opening of Hotel Blackhawk ushered in a wave of additional development downtown," Carter said. "Most notably, it and Forrest Block proved market-rate housing was going to be a hot commodity, and the restaurant/bar and entertainment industry then flourished as a result.

"Hotel Blackhawk’s success was the tipping point for downtown shifting into another gear."

The good times brought big-name guests, such as presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, along with every major candidate in recent presidential elections. Singers James Taylor, Paul Simon, Tony Bennett and members of Maroon 5 have stayed, along with comedian Jerry Seinfeld.

But the 105-year-old hotel at 200 E. 3rd St. has endured historic hardships, too, including the record flood in 2019 and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

"We thank God every day for our employees and for our customers who have stuck with us and bought to-go meals and done staycations, just to support us," Amy Gill said. "This is really hard but, with faith and dedication, we will get through this.

"Every day in the hotel business is a new day. As long as we can keep our guests happy, that is our goal. We do know that the next few months will be hard. We would appreciate any business we can get from people locally."

The Gills also have become part-time locals, routinely traveling between Davenport and their home in St. Louis.

"We are both up there at least a few days every month or more," she said. "Our staff is amazing and doesn't need a lot of help, but we love the Quad-Cities and can’t stay away. We have a lot of friends there, too."

The Gills were among those who were inspired by their success at the Hotel Blackhawk to make additional investments downtown, including the 78-room hotel, The Current Iowa, in the former Putnam building. It opened in 2017 after a $33 million investment.

"The Gills deserve enormous credit for believing and understanding our market in a way many other developers did not see at the time," Carter said. "City leaders deserve equal credit for extending incentives on a project so many other people thought impossible. It was truly a community effort; Davenport, the Quad Cities and downtown have benefited greatly for the past 10 years as a result.

"The Gills went on to build numerous other successful projects downtown, too — City Square, Renwick, Pershing Lofts — all bedrock developments of that past decade."

Now, as the renovated Hotel Blackhawk prepares to enter its 11th year as a downtown destination, it has become particularly popular for weddings and other events. The COVID-19-related cancellations that hit the hospitality industry hard have not spared the Blackhawk.

"While some (businesses) are not doing holiday parties, many are buying gift cards for spa, hotel stays and meals for their employees as gifts," Gill said. "We have private dining rooms for your social bubble to be able to be waited on in safety. Or we have spacious suites that people can work from and get room service and a break from being at home."

Current challenges can be overcome, she said, just as the doubts of the past were put to rest.

"I remember the uproar in the paper of the appraiser saying there was no market downtown for anything, and now look at downtown. There are over 2,000 people who now live downtown, and those people go out and eat and shop near their homes."

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