While construction of the new Interstate 74 bridge in the Quad Cities is drawing a lot of attention these days, a new urban destination is quietly rising just beyond the span.
Downtown Bettendorf is in the middle of a major transition, and the Downtown Bettendorf Organization (DBO) is on a mission to make the downtown business district a more vibrant place to visit, shop, live and play.
“We’re in the midst of a renaissance with the bridge,” said Ryan Jantzi, executive director of DBO, a division of the Quad Cities Chamber launched a year ago. “I honestly think we are in a great position, and the momentum is just getting started.”
Recent additions to the area long known as a home improvement store corridor include Ascentra Credit Union’s new home office, The Bridges Lofts Apartments, Adventurous Brewing LLC, Stacks Pancake House and QC Fuel, among others. TBK Bank has also announced it will relocate its Midwest division headquarters to downtown Bettendorf in 2021.
For recreation, a planned eight-story elevator will lift pedestrians to a future multi-use trail on the interstate bridge, connecting the riverfront trails in downtown Bettendorf and downtown Moline. With walkability being a top priority, new restaurants, expanded urban parks, room for rotating food trucks and riverfront improvements are in the works, too.
“My job is to tell the rest of the Quad Cities and those outside our region what we have to offer,” Jantzi said.
Creating a ‘fully functioning downtown’
DBO was created a year ago to market downtown, enhance its aesthetic appearance, coordinate with city leaders on future economic growth and give business and property owners a voice in the matter.
“Things are definitely happening,” said Simon Bowe, Chair of the DBO Board of Directors and owner of Bowe Machine Company, a longstanding manufacturing company at 2527 State St., downtown Bettendorf. “We would like to continue that momentum.”
Ultimately, Bowe said he would like to see a fully functioning downtown “where you don’t have to leave to do your shopping or find entertainment. It’s all here.”
His grandfather started Bowe Machine in 1956. He chose Bettendorf because “he believed in the Bettendorf community,” Bowe said. “We feel a kinship for Bettendorf, especially downtown Bettendorf. We’ve been here six-and-a-half decades. We continue to support the community and the Quad Cities as a whole.”
Leann Themas owns Tango Salon and the building it’s in west of the interstate, which in the past, she said, has not received as much attention as other parts of downtown. She’s hoping the removal of the old bridge span will free up land and create opportunities.
“It will open up new land for development, and it’s coming toward me,” she said. “I’m excited about that.”
Included in the City of Bettendorf’s plans for the area vacated by the old bridge is a new park near the future pedestrian elevator, designed to help connect the east and west sides of downtown.
Themas, who also serves on the DBO Board, chose to open her business 18 years ago at 836 State St. because of its central location – proximity to the river, the interstate, the Illinois Quad Cities and Davenport. Now, for the first time she can remember, downtown Bettendorf is becoming a destination.
“For a while, not too much was happening,” she said. “With the prospect of the bridge, we’re seeing more residential development, which has spurred commercial investment and interest overall.”
The Bridges Lofts Apartments is at full occupancy, indicating the area is ripe for more residential growth.
“For a downtown to work, you need people living and working down here,” Jantzi said.
And there’s no shortage of Bettendorf pride.
“You can feel it from the residents,” Jantzi said. “Downtown was a bedroom community. There were factories down here. There was nightlife to serve the people in the factories. You saw a little bit of that decline. Talk of the bridge slowed progress. Now we’ve turned that corner.”
DBO wants to make the area more attractive and inviting, including the addition of landscaped gardens and gateway signage.
“When people approach downtown, they’re going to know they’re coming into a special area,” Jantzi said.