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Fifth Avenue is Moline's historical 'main' street. This photo, taken on Dec. 10, 1956, shows a busy downtown.
Second Avenue was considered Rock Island's 'main' street. Here it is shown in a photo taken in 1901 looking west from Spencer Square, site of the site of the downtown post office.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Mizener|
The District of Rock Island has gone through many changes over the years the most recent being the opening up of 2nd Avenue between 17th and 18th Street to automobile traffic.
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Photo: John Greenwood|
Downtown Moline as viewed from 17th St. and 3rd Ave., looking west.
Does your town have a literal Main Street, or is it working to resurrect the sense of Main Street in its downtown?
Today's city boosters seek a return to those golden-hazed days of bustling commerce, civic life, with retail, entertainment and residential options.
"The undisputed heart of downtown Rock Island, historically and today, is 2nd Avenue," said Diane Oestreich, a member of the Rock Island Preservation Commission. "It has been the destination of shoppers, tipplers and travelers, of salesmen, milliners, attorneys and blacksmiths."
Historically, the commercial area extended from 15th to 20th streets. West of 15th Street, the avenue was residential. Ms. Oestreich, a 43-year resident, has seen the decline and resurgence of 2nd Avenue and downtown.
"The importance of downtown was acknowledged by the fact that every parade went down Second Avenue," she said. "And there were lots of parades in those days. If there was a convention or gathering, a parade was almost invariably an important part of the event." Until recent years, the Rock Island High School homecoming parade also traversed those same streets.
"When the malls went in, the big department stores downtown left," Ms. Oestreich said, citing Sears, Younkers and Wards. "They brought people downtown. Christmas shopping was a big deal downtown. Then the malls went in, and stores started leaving. It was not the shopping destination because the big anchors left."
The city later rebuilt 2nd Avenue in the downtown core into the Great River Plaza, a traffic-free zone that attracted and encouraged pedestrians. It was one of the earliest attempts nationally at closing off streets to vehicles, Ms. Oestreich said.
"The design of it was meant to mimic the Mississippi River, with rocky islands," she said.
In the 1970s, the National Trust for Historic Preservation developed its pioneering Main Street approach to commercial district revitalization, of which Rock Island became an active member. The process is meant to combine historic preservation with economic development to restore prosperity and vitality to downtowns and neighborhood business districts.
Today, there are more than 1,200 active Main Street programs nationally.
"It's meant to reinvigorate downtowns, which were the focus of the community, where people went Saturday nights," Ms. Oestreich said. "Every downtown had a focus. The malls became a focus, but now they're losing it and we're going more to strip malls, big-box stores. It's like downtown spread out over the city, without a focus, I would love to have a real retail, one-stop shopping downtown."
Through redevelopment of historic buildings, brand promotion as the Arts & Entertainment District, and an emphasis on downtown living, Rock Island is making progress in making downtown a destination and home again, said community marketing director Jennifer Fowler.
"Main Street is all about revitalization, which to each community is going to mean different things," she said. "The Main Street program looks at your community from a wide-ranging perspective. All of these things need to work in tandem for revitalization efforts to be successful."
Rock Island community and business leaders have attended numerous Main Street conferences and training opportunities, where they learn what's working nationally and apply that here, Ms. Fowler said. Cities also receive ongoing technical assistance and can get funding from the national program.
Barb Sandberg, who has lived in Moline all her 70 years, said her city also is following the Main Street model to revive its old main street, 5th Avenue.
"In the '70s, people wrote off the downtowns. The National Trust with its Main Street ideas showed us we did have viable entities with the possibilities of adaptive re-use, that there was another use for this area. We've got sturdy buildings. All the infrastructure was there. That's what Moline has done to great advantage."
On 5th Avenue, Christmas time was always very popular and it hosted many high school parades, Ms. Sandberg said. Her husband Dick remembers parades on the avenue after the end of World War II.
"Everybody went to where the center of city was, and the center was Main Street," she said. "What a celebration it was. Main Street was the heart of the city, and still is. It's trying to do that in another form."
One of Moline's first major revitalization efforts downtown was tearing down the New York store (in 1990) at 15th Street and 5th Avenue to make room for the Heritage Place office building.
"There were still shops there that were viable, but the idea was that we needed something different for downtown," Ms. Sandberg said. "The Heritage building is a nice asset on 5th Avenue. It has brought additional people to downtown. That was the whole thought and concept."
While 5th Avenue was an original focal point, Moline in the 1990s also turned to River Drive with The Mark and all its attendant development, which has created a stronger attraction than the city's historic main street.
"It took 10 years to restore, but look what a viable entity it is," Ms. Sandberg said, noting renovations of older buildings along River Drive east of 15th Street. "Demolishing buildings is not always the answer. If you've got a viable structure, do adaptive reuse. The Reliance building with the University Club on 5th Avenue is a good example."
The Reliance had housed a Carson Pirie Scott and Co. store, but its closing was "devastating" to the downtown, she said. Now the University Club, with banquets and receptions, is bring it back.
"It does take time, new owners looking at properties," Ms. Sandberg said. The new Christmas lights this past December along 5th Avenue was a psychological boost to reclaim that main street.
"It shows how dedicated the Moline Centre Partners group is," she said. "with the mix of residential, commercial businesses, we want to draw young professionals into our cities. We want amenities and restaurants that are attractive. Other cities are doing the same thing, rediscovering their downtown. Each city has something to offer, you need to show you're an up and coming area -- a living, vibrant city."
Restoring vibrancy also is a key goal in downtown Davenport, which actually has a Main Street.
"Some of our biggest and most important buildings are there on Main Street," said city planner Ken Oestreich, noting the Wells Fargo bank, the public library, and the River Music Experience in the former Redstone building.
The Redstone formerly housed a Von Maur department store and later an antique mall by the former President Casino. In 2001, the building, already on the National Historic Register, was designated a landmark.
Davenport has a plan to reinvigorate its Main Street, adopted in 2001, which includes extensive changes to landscaping, sidewalks and better linkage of downtown to Duck Creek Parkway and Vander Veer Park. Main Street has two landmark anchors it would like to capitalize on -- Dillon Foundation (fountain) at the riverfront and the Civil War monument, at about 7th Street, Mr. Oestreich said.
"It's the city's intention to reduce traffic lanes, put in broader sidewalks up Main Street, to link to Vander Veer Park," he said. "The designs are in flux, but the intent is to make that more of a pedestrian experience."
The city has been active in promoting new development and streetscaping along the river to 3rd Street, and wants to continue that theme up Main Street to Vander Veer, according to the study.
That means continuing with the style of lighting, benches, trash receptacles, paving design and visitor signage from the southern end of Main Street.
"Certainly, revitalizing the downtown is one of the city's highest priorities," Mr. Oestreich said. "We'd like to see more residential development. It's a gradual process. What I've seen in the last 16 years, I've seen a lot happen."