Downtown urban planners urge city use of Town Square block for civic events and activities

The so-called Town Square block along State Street in downtown Bettendorf should be used as originally envisioned – as an open plaza for civic events and activities – a team of urban planners from the Iowa Downtown Resource Center told city officials in early October.

The planning experts' recommendation is in stark contrast to two development proposals currently being considered by the city council. Both call for creation of mixed use commercial/residential development with parking on the block between 20th and 21st Streets between State and Grant Streets.

"A permanent plaza space should be considered as part of the Town Square redevelopment, potentially for events and activities that can occur across the year," the downtown resource center report said. "A permanent space should be designed and constructed according to a design plan that incorporates flexible set up space for a farmer’s market, music events and festivals, public art, outdoor seating and garden and green space.

"A plaza design should respond to the overall urban design scheme proposed in the streetscape and public space master plan" the report said. "Secondary plazas and gathering spaces could be considered for the riverfront area for larger festivals, gatherings or musical events."

Both redevelopment plans before the city also call for demolition of existing apartments and commercial buildings east and north of the Town Square property along Grant and State Streets. The properties, none of which are owned by the city, would then be the used for either new senior- or low-income housing.

The downtown resource center, part of the Iowa Economic Development Authority, was hired by the city to conduct a three-day assessment of the downtown in September. The report was submitted to city officials in early October and emailed October 7 to city department heads and members of the city council and downtown Bettendorf Business Network.

The report has not been publicly discussed by the council. Its support of the Town Square as an open public space, rather than a commercial development, was not raised during public discussion Oct. 26 of the two development proposals.

The city council had planned to select one of the developers – Newbury Living of Des Moines or Russell Companies of Davenport – at its Nov. 3 meeting, but that decision was delayed because City Administrator Decker Ploehn and four aldermen were attending a National League of Cities Conference in Nashville.

The resource center's report focuses on incremental improvements to existing buildings, the downtown environment and working with existing businesses.

"Historic preservation must become a foundational building block," the resource center report notes. "This must be where you start your economic development efforts. You have buildings that should be saved. Direct resources around this historic preservation base and building around this effort."

The planners also urged the city to work with existing businesses between 15th and 19th Streets to improve their storefront and signage by offering design assistance and grants, and focus on a "model block" where existing buildings would be rehabbed to provide "a more dramatic and immediate physical change along State and Grant Streets."

The report says "short-term design initiatives" should be pursued to build momentum for new downtown investment and improve the downtown's image as a place to visit, shop, dine and play. "These initiatives should focus on rehabilitating and re-using downtown Bettendorf’s remaining building fabric, implementing achievable urban design and placemaking projects, and making downtown more walkable and safe for pedestrians."

CLICK HERE to download the full report by the Iowa Downtown Resource Center.

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