DAVENPORT, Iowa (AP) — From the Ford Model T to EVs and SUVs, residents for more than 100 years have driven through and parked at Davenport’s historic Riverview Terrace Park to take in the picturesque panoramic view of the Mississippi River.
City of Davenport officials last month blocked off the semi-circle driveway to the park following reports of vandalism and recurring complaints from neighbors of people in the park after hours drinking, littering and engaging in suspected illicit drug activity and prostitution.
“This has been an ongoing problem that ebbs and flows, and it began to flow again” this summer, said Ward 3 Alderwoman Marion Meginnis, who represents the area.
The Quad-City Times reports that city officials initially placed a large road closure sign at the east end of the park in August to temporarily reduce the ability of people to use the park as a drive-thru.
“The design (of the park) has made it an attractive nuisance,” Meginnis said.
She noted a vehicle last month rolled into and damaged a historic stone wall in the park, causing about $5,000 worth of damage.
Not long after closing the east entrance, vandals hurled the temporary barricade across the park, prompting city officials to place concrete barriers at both driveway entrances to the park.
Though closed to vehicles, the 3-acre site remains open to the public, Meginnis stressed, and is meant as a temporary measure until city staff can decide how best to address and discourage crime.
She noted there is on-street parking “steps away from the park” along Clay Street, west of Washington Street.
“We’ve been monitoring how much activity, how much parking is there, and there seems to be ample parking every day for people if they wish to park and walk,” Meginnis said.
Nevertheless, the decision to temporarily block vehicle access to the park has riled one Davenport alderman.
Meginnis’ mention of the temporary driveway closure during Wednesday’s city council meeting piqued frustration from Davenport Alderman Ray Ambrose, Ward 4.
“When I go by it now, it’s boarded up and it looks like a crime scene,” Ambrose said. “Riverview Park is the fountainhead of the historic Washington Street neighborhood. To have this beautiful park changed, I think, is unacceptable. Tread lightly.”
The city purchased the property in 1894, then known as Lookout Park, and changed the name to Riverview Terrace at the turn of the 20th century. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Ezra Sidran lives across the park on Clay Street. Every morning he walks the park to pick up litter — empty liquor bottles, beer cans, cigarette backs, “crack bags” and dirty diapers.
“For 20 years I’ve been cleaning up the garbage in the park, but in the last year it’s gotten bad. It’s gotten incredibly bad,” Sidran said. “People have been driving in there and they do or sell their drugs, eat their lunch, roll down their windows and throw their garbage out the windows. ... They’ve turned the park into a drug bazaar.”
Sidran said he and neighbors lobbied the city to place surveillance cameras in the park to catch and deter illegal and after-hours activity in the park.
Meginnis said the city has a camera in the park, “but it hasn’t been effective catching criminal activity.”
“We can’t ask the police department to constantly monitor it,” she said, adding officers conducted 130 police patrols through the park in the last year. “We don’t have enough police officers to do that.”
Sidran said he is disappointed in the city’s decision to close the park to vehicles, “but the solution is working.”
“Two weeks later, the park is very clean,” he said. “We’re seeing people bring their kids to the park” and picnic in the park.
“We can’t have people driving into the park, because they trash it,” Sidran said. “It’s the anonymity that cars give miscreants.”
Still, Sidran argues “the city let the jerks win.” By closing the park, he argues Davenport city officials have admitted “we cannot protect city property.”
“They’re admitting defeat, and that’s what’s hurting. … A lot of people, who for 100 years, have enjoyed driving through the park,” Sidran said. “And it’s one of the most beautiful views in the Upper Mississippi Valley. … You can see 20 miles up and down the river from here. But the city just cannot control the park, and was being overrun by drug dealers and miscreants.”
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