VIEWPOINT: Popular East Village pocket park sold to businessman

VIEWPOINT: Popular East Village pocket park sold to businessman

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The tiny park at the corner of 11th and Mound streets in the Village of East Davenport has been private property for decades, but it's been used at the public's pleasure.

Known by many as Gildea's Pocket Park, the corner has hosted petting zoos, live nativity scenes, puppet shows and countless visitors, looking for a seat in the shade.

In its next life, the pocket park is likely to become a beer garden for the adjacent 11th Street Precinct.

The property, valued at $65,570 in county records, was sold earlier this month to Village businessman John Wisor for $20,000. By Friday, he was removing trees.

A neighboring businessman said he would have gladly paid twice the price, and that's one reason the seller said he is having regrets.

In the mid-1970s, the little parcel was purchased by Dr. Paul Cunnick as an anniversary gift for his wife, Dr. Dorothy Gildea. It reminded the Davenport couple of pocket parks they saw during their European travels. He died in 2009, and she continued to plant flowers and care for it as long as her health allowed.

Gildea passed away in March 2018 and two years later, Wisor got his long-time wish to take it over.

"I sold my soul to the devil when I sold the thing," the doctors' son, Marcus Cunnick, said Monday. "He (Wisor) has been bugging me and bugging me. He was after my mom about it for years.

"He called my mom every name in the book."

Wisor did not respond to requests for comment.

Why would Cunnick sell his parents' park to a man who he said harassed and insulted his mom?

"The city raised the taxes to an unbelievable amount — almost $2,800 a year," he said. "I also have to pay for insurance, and, especially in the summer, it needs a lot of attention.

"I don't have the time, and I don't have the desire to take care of it. It became a liability. I was paying three grand a year, just to drive by and say, 'There's my mom's park.'"

So why not put it on the market?

"I probably should have," Cunnick said. "I talked to my wife. I talked to the kids. I had a buyer with cash in hand. I wish somebody else would've approached me. I probably should've hung a sign out."

The dispute between Gildea and Wisor, he said, went on for years. He remembered one Mother's Day in which he said Wisor sent his mom a box of chocolates to try to curry favor.

"She poked her finger in each one and sent it back to him," he said.

The story came as no surprise to a neighboring businessman, Bill Sheeder, co-owner of Baked Beer & Bread Co.

"We all knew Dr. Gildea wasn't about to sell to Wisor, and the character of the East Village came from people like her," Sheeder said. 

It is no secret that Wisor has made enemies in the Village for his brash style, including his conduct during the demolition of a historic home and anti-gay remarks he made against organizers of Pride Fest nearly two years ago.

Preliminary renderings for Wisor's plan to turn the park into a beer garden show no trees. Given the coronavirus pandemic, however, outdoor space is in high demand, especially for restaurants and bars.

On the agenda Monday for Davenport's Design Review Board meeting, city staff wrote the following, regarding background on Gildea's Pocket Park: "With Lindsay Park, there is plenty of open space in the Village. The intent of the owner is to incorporate a design and materials which match or complement the existing 11th Street Precinct.

"Adding the beer garden will further activate this important corner in the Village."

Some would argue the park already was activated. For more than 40 years, it had a role as a lovely little oasis in a historic commercial corridor. Volunteers put their sweat equity into the park over the years, kneeling with gloved hands to pull at weeds while children settled onto benches with their ice cream cones.

The Village was fortunate Cunnick and Gildea saw their park as a place worth sharing.

But Wisor is generally keen on pointing out the public has little or no business deciding what is done with private property.

For better or worse, he is correct.

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