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Two interesting and insightful statistics ought to shape any ongoing effort to revitalize the downtown district in Bettendorf.

Main Street Iowa’s downtown assessment report last September estimated city of Bettendorf residents spend $540 million dollars annually on retail goods, but only $223 million dollars of that amount stays with Bettendorf retailers. The figures further calculate $315 million in sales “leak” out of community to be filled by non-Bettendorf businesses.

This $315 million retail gap suggests the right business mix in the downtown has the potential to attract significant Bettendorf consumer spending. The key issue downtown planners face is determining the best combination of businesses to draw potential customers, not only from the community, but the Quad City region, as well.

Here a second statistic comes into play. Mass Mutual Financial reports: “Senior women age 50 and older control net worth of $19 trillion and own more than three-fourths of the nation’s financial wealth.” Women across all demographic categories represent $20 trillion dollars in annual consumer spending and make 85% of all buying decisions

Taken together these statistics argue downtown Bettendorf has strong economic growth potential, if retail businesses located in the downtown corridor, address the buying interests of women, especially those 50 years of age and older.

Unfortunately, downtown Bettendorf largely fails to attract women to shop there and here is a reason why. Bridget Brennan, a writer on women’s shopping patterns, points out: “In virtually every society in the world, women have primary care-giving responsibilities for both children and the elderly (and often, just about everybody else in-between). In this primary care giving role, women find themselves buying on behalf of everyone else in their lives.” Women shop broadly for the whole family. They require products from a diverse selection of retail businesses which the downtown presently does not have.

In a recent survey of several dozen Bettendorf women on attitudes toward downtown shopping, Connie Maloney, a Bettendorf resident who worked in marketing, observed, “There’s nothing that attracts me down there on a regular basis.” She once checked out several downtown home remodeling-related businesses, but found the products neither cost competitive nor reflecting current styles. The women surveyed, like Maloney, generally do not shop downtown.

Maloney often shops in Chicago to buy goods her family needs. She believes the downtown ought to develop a unique identity, appeal to a broader demographic with more stylish goods and update its overall physical appearance, as Le Claire and Galena have already done.

Cindy Bondi, a Bettendorf realtor, also offers several suggestions for improving the downtown. She hopes to see a more eclectic selection of restaurants, including coffee shops and a deli, which also provide outdoor seating for groups to meet and socialize. She suggests creating a downtown plaza where adults can stroll or sit on benches and children play.

Group Services president, Renae Warren, attends events at the Waterfront Convention Center, but also believes the downtown looks tired. She encourages downtown business to update their facades for a fresh, new and inviting appearance.

Renae regularly visits the Davenport farmers’ markets on weekends and may make as many as five purchases costing more than sixty dollars. She would visit the Bettendorf farmer’s market, if scheduled more conveniently on a weekend with more vendors participating.

Downtown women business owners also have observations to share about downtown.

joy-povich-photoJoy Povich recently opened her Knit and Knot business on State Street across from K and K Hardware. Iowa Department of Transportation figures show almost 30,000 cars a day pass through the downtown on Route 67, but that hasn’t meant additional business for Joy. More traffic doesn’t mean more business.

Joy believes walkability to be an important issue. She says the narrow and crumbling downtown sidewalks located next to the busy road do not create an attractive appearance nor encourage walking. No one walks on the sidewalks. Safety is an issue.

A liquor store behind Joy’s building attracts panhandlers who discard liquor bottles in her parking lot and contribute to the perception that downtown is not particularly safe for women.

Joy’s concerns are reflected in an assessment made by Jim Thompson of Main Street Iowa: “Poor storefront merchandising, vacant buildings and lots, and the lack of pedestrian amenities and regular maintenance to the downtown streetscape all contribute to an image and perception that downtown Bettendorf is not a safe nor comfortable place to walk around nor compelling enough to visit.” The comments of women surveyed support this assessment.

debbie-hereau-photoDebbie Hereau, proprietor of Concept Bath on Grant Street, argues the downtown can develop identity by accenting its historical character and proximity to the river. She would like to see outlet stores located downtown. She favors more connectivity between businesses and the river front, as well, and likes the flower pots and banners installed downtown last year.

Leann Themas owns Tango Salon on State Street. She believes the downtown has a disconnected feel and is not walkable. She hopes to see complimentary businesses clustered together that allow for cross-promotion and browsing. A traffic slowing strategy for Route 67, she argues, will make the downtown more walkable and encourage potential customers to check out downtown businesses.

The downtown survey of women business owners and customers indicates they have a unique, constructive and thoughtful perspective on what needs to be done to make the downtown retail environment more economically viable. The revitalization of downtown Bettendorf depends on how much downtown planners listen to their concerns and act on their suggestions.

Local Architectural Historian on Advantages of Historic Preservation in Downtown Bettendorf

Last September the City of Bettendorf, the Bettendorf Development Corporation (BDC) and the Bettendorf Business Network jointly invited a Main Street Iowa consultant team to conduct an economic development assessment for the downtown Bettendorf business district.

Jim Thompson, team leader and Main Street Iowa business specialist, offered this recommendation for downtown Bettendorf in the assessment summary: “It was repeated over and over again that downtown Bettendorf is a blank slate, but it absolutely is not. You have great buildings and business opportunities within your current footprint. Historic preservation must become a foundation building block.” He encouraged the city to hire a qualified preservation architect to conduct an inventory of traditional buildings in the downtown district prior to seeking Main Street Iowa designation.

Fortunately for Bettendorf, a qualified and experienced architectural historian and preservation consultant lives off Locust Street in Davenport’s Oak Lane Historic District. Rebecca McCarley has provided historic preservation consulting services to communities in eastern Iowa from Dubuque to Fort Madison, since moving to the Quad City area in 2003. She offers insight into how the historic preservation process works and what results might be achieved.

McCarley grew up in Waverly, Iowa, graduated from Washington University in St. Louis, with a B.S. degree in architecture, and received her Master of Science degree, in historic preservation from Ball State University in Indiana. The National Park Service qualified her as an architectural historian based upon her education and experience. Architectural historians research historic buildings and districts to substantiate the history of communities and related places.

Historic preservation professionals, like McCarley generally follow a two step process through their work. First, a reconnaissance survey is undertaken to collect basic architectural data and accessible historic information about a building or district. Based upon information from the initial survey, a second and more intensive survey may be recommended. That survey will carefully examine individual buildings and neighborhoods to determine their historic character and eligibility for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

Listing a building on the National Register of Historic Places, creates an opportunity for property owners or developers to access state and federal tax credits and other grants to meet the cost of maintaining and rehabilitating a building. Federal tax credits cover 20% of qualified rehabilitation expenses and Iowa refundable credits provide an additional 25% tax refund for a total credit of 45% of allowable costs. The tax credits make historic projects both financially feasible and desirable.

Virtually, every large city, from Dubuque to Fort Madison, including Rock Island, Moline, Davenport and LeClaire has done preservation research and established historic districts, as part of city revitalization processes. Bettendorf remains the exception to this development.

The advantages of historic preservation for the downtown revitalization process are numerous. McCarley points out, “Economic development studies have shown that dollar for dollar historic rehabilitation has a larger impact on a community than new construction.” Studies further demonstrate historical preservation of downtown buildings spurs private investment in adjacent property, increases property values and the tax base, provides incubator space for new businesses, creates jobs, encourages tourism and produces an inviting and attractive business environment. McCarley believes, “Historic preservation is economic development.”

The location of an IBM service center in the historic 1931 Roshek downtown Dubuque building several years ago has served as a much publicized example of the positive impact historic preservation can have on downtown revitalization efforts.  Bettendorf residents, like Susan Zude of U. S. Bank in Davenport, suggest the city of Le Claire preservation efforts combined with niche retail businesses have provided a viable model for Bettendorf to follow. Galena, Illinois and Valley Junction in West Des Moines have received national attention for their successful downtown preservation and revitalization efforts.

Interestingly, as the City of Bettendorf approaches completion of its 2016 Downtown Master Plan Update and Streetscape Plan, one topic receives little mention in the plan and its earlier 2009 version. The document fails to elaborate on historic preservation issues or even the possibility of conducting a basic reconnaissance survey to determine, if downtown building deserve attention. This omission from the proposed plan may well preclude access to federal and state preservation funds available for downtown projects, contribute to the perception the downtown is a blank slate without a history worth remembering, lead residents to assume the downtown has no identity and compromise economic revitalization efforts, particularly with Main Street Iowa.

Bill Connors Offers Updates on Six Recent Downtown Planning Efforts

For the past dozen years, Bill Connors has capably served as Bettendorf’s director of community development. He began his career with the city in 1997, as a building inspector.

As community development director, Bill handles many responsibilities related to planning for the improvement and revitalization of the downtown district.

Over the last decade and a half, Bettendorf city government engaged in multiple studies to guide downtown policies and improvement projects. For example, the 2009 Downtown Master Plan cites eight studies conducted between 2000 and 2007, dealing with such subjects as the River’s Edge commercial development on State Street and the Waterfront Convention Center.

Connors led or participated in most downtown studies. These studies can be complex, confusing or duplicating in the minds of Bettendorf residents. To help sort issues out, Connors offers the following update and overview of the six most recent downtown planning efforts, all of which continue to shape the city decision making process.

Downtown Master Plan 2009: Shive Hattery, a Moline based architectural and engineering firm, was engaged by the city at a $150,000 cost to prepare a downtown master plan and streetscape plan update. The plan provided an ambitious and attractive vision for downtown renewal. Ultimately, Connors notes, three aspects of the were realized: installation of LED street lighting, a streetscape project across from the Waterfront Convention Center and the acquisition and demolition of houses on the site of the proposed city square. Budget limitations and the approaching I-74 bridge construction project left the 2009 vision largely unfulfilled.

Comprehensive Plan 2015: The city contracted with RDG Planning and Design of Des Moines (RDG), an urban engineering and design firm, to prepare a comprehensive plan for Bettendorf, titled “Premiering Bettendorf,” for a $146,000 price. According to Connors, the most significant feature of the multi-faceted plan may well be recommended land use regulations now being written by city staff for the zoning code. The plan also contained a chapter with recommendations for revitalizing the downtown and enhancing the river front.

Downtown Master Plan Update 2016: With I-74 construction a reality, city officials decided to revisit both the 2009 master plan and the 2014 comprehensive plan to create a single planning document for the downtown. Shive Hattery and RDG were hired, as a team, for that effort at a $83,000 cost. Work on the plan remains ongoing with completion slated for this year.

The 2016 master plan has several significant elements to it. First, an updated and expanded set of building and land use ordinances will be added to the overlay district, which presently governs downtown business construction. An overlay district has a set of more stringent standards for construction and renovation of downtown buildings. These rules regulate construction materials, signage, landscaping, and design. The planning and zoning commission will review and have enforcement responsibilities, along with authority to negotiate agreements with developers. Overlay district ordinance drafting is well underway with adoption this year.

The proposed 2016 master plan also revisits the 2009 streetscape plan to provide infrastructure recommendations for making the downtown a more unified, attractive, walkable and user friendly venue. Updated standards will be set for street and pedestrian lighting, sidewalks, crosswalk, bumpouts, intersections and landscaping. Additional pedestrian amenities will be detailed. The plan should be completed and adopted by the city council this year.

Main Street Assessment 2015: The city, partnering with the Bettendorf Business Network and the Bettendorf Development Corporation, invited a a team from Main Street Iowa and the Lakota Group of Chicago, to do a $5,000 downtown assessment in September 2015. The study provides a critique of downtown revitalization efforts. Team leader, Jim Thompson, noted: “The community of Bettendorf has spent a great deal of time and money in the planning process. You do not need another plan to sit on the shelf… Now is the time for action.”

2023 Strategic Economic Plan: Steve Van Dyke, former economic development director, led this study in 2014 to increase the city’s economic development base. The study contained downtown recommendations. Connors was unsure of the plans present status. The University of Northern Iowa Institute for Decision Making completed this analyse for $500.

Downtown traffic study 2016: City administrators anticipate issuing a request for a proposed $100,000 downtown traffic study to assess the possibility of turning Grant Street into a two-way thoroughfare carrying highway 67 traffic, while State Street reverts to local use and becomes a more walkable street. Connors believes study completion, evaluation, approval by IDOT, design, right-of-way acquisition and construction could take up to ten years. The proposal comes before city council for approval later this year.

The implementation of recommendations proposed in the six studies remains up in the air. Connors points out I-74 bridge construction, related road realignment and the upcoming Grant/State Street traffic study will undoubtedly lead to delays in many possible downtown improvements. Additionally, the city has no control over what individual property owners do with their land. During the critical decade ahead, city council and key city officials may retire and with that change a different set of priorities for downtown could emerge. The city has no overall implementation plan for future downtown improvements nor a funding mechanism put in place. Taken together, these factors indicate a fully revitalized downtown will not emerge soon from bridge construction dust.

Bob Lee brings Iowa Main Street approach to downtown Bettendorf

Bob Lee may have retired from his role, as vice-chancellor of advancement at Palmer College, a year ago, but his active involvement in and concern for economic development in the Iowa Quad City region remains unabated.

Originally from Shenandoah, Iowa, Bob completed both undergraduate and Master of Business Administration degrees at the University of Iowa. Following service in the U.S. Army, during the Viet Nam War, he worked briefly in Chicago, but then made the career move to Palmer College where he served 19 years as vice-chancellor.

Today Bob continues his public service, as chairman of the board of directors of both the Downtown Davenport Partnership and the Hilltop Campus Village. He has been elected to the boards of the Quad City Chamber of Commerce, the Hilltop Business Association and the Illowa Council of the Boy Scout of America, and has also been a longtime Bettendorf resident.

The Downtown Davenport Partnership and the Hilltop Campus Village each have experienced significant success, redeveloping their urban business districts, under Bob’s leadership. Reflecting on the achievements of those two organization, he concluded an organized and structured approach to downtown revitalization could benefit Bettendorf too. He shared his thoughts with Steve VanDyke, Bettendorf’s Economic Director, who, in turn, brought the Main Street concept to the attention of the Bettendorf Business Network.

In particular, Bob has been impressed with the success attained by the Hilltop Campus Village through the Iowa Main Street program. Scott Tunicliff, Hilltop Campus program director, says this about Bob: “Bob knows that interaction with key groups, such as Main Street Iowa, is vital. He knows the new director at Main Street Iowa, James Engle, as well as many of the key staff persons there. This makes a big difference.”

The Iowa Main Street program grew out of The Main Street Four Point Approach developed in 1977 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Street Center. Today fifty-two Iowa communities participate in that program.

Main Street Iowa provides a comprehensive and integrated strategy for commercial district revitalization using four key facets. Those facets are organization, economic restructuring, design and promotion.  Communities, hoping to participate in the program, must seek admission through an extensive application process.

Admission to the program offers access to resources that enhance downtown revitalization. For example, Main Street Iowa has specialists in the fields of design, promotions and communications to work with local communities. The program also provides access to special grants for revitalization purposes and offers an annual awards program to recognize communities who successfully reach redevelopment goals.

Bob believes the Main Street Iowa approach helped create an identity for the Hilltop Campus Village and brought necessary focus on process and initiatives that contributed to the success of revitalization efforts. Those initiatives included sponsoring new activities in the Hilltop district, attracting a dozen new businesses over the past five years and constructing the Harrison Lofts Apartments.

Bob’s recommendation to bring the Iowa Main Street approach to downtown Bettendorf resonates well with many downtown business leaders. Chris Zubroski, owner of Donohoo Steel Treating Company, says the program has strengths which may benefit downtown Bettendorf redevelopment plans. Doug Grenier from Modern Woodsmen adds, “Downtown Bettendorf businesses have been looking for a structured approach to an organized revitalization effort. I feel Main Street Iowa can take us in that direction.”

Bob Lee agreed to serve as chairperson of a Main Street Iowa task force for Bettendorf. The group will meet later this month for organization purposes. An application for Main Street Iowa participation could be submitted by 2015.

Steve Van Dyke to Retire

Eighteen years ago the City of Bettendorf appointed Steve Van Dyke to serve as Director of Community and Economic Development. This past October Steve notified city officials of his intention to retire by year end, bringing to conclusion a career marked by numerous and significant economic development and redevelopment projects in the community.

Steve grew up in Davenport, graduated from the University of Iowa and initially managed a retail store in Cedar Falls. He, then, began a 38 year career in city government. Over that time he worked for six cities, which included employment as city administrator of both Hudson, Iowa and Fulton, Illinois. He came to Bettendorf, after serving as director of economic development for East Moline, Illinois.

The trajectory for Van Dyke’s tenure was set in 1997, when the city created a plan to identify and redevelop nine areas or corridors of opportunity. Those nine corridors included, the Golden Triangle, Utica Ridge Road, 53rd Avenue, Cumberland Square, downtown Bettendorf, Middle Road and Interstate 80, Duck Creek Plaza, the Old Bettendorf Industrial site and the Riverside Development Park.

The 1997 plan continues to guide local community redevelopment efforts. With the construction of the Hilton Inn on Middle Road nearing completion, the Duck Creek corridors will largely be finished, leaving only the Middle Road and Interstate 80 and the downtown corridors requiring significant attention.

Van Dyke regrets he will be unable to finish all the work needing to be done in the nine corridors. He points out, however, that the development of Middle Road and Interstate 80 and the downtown corridors may require ten, twenty or even thirty years for completion. And once the needs of those areas have been addressed, another cycle of redevelopment will necessarily begin. Community revitalization efforts will be ongoing and require a long-term commitment from the person who oversees the projects.

Steve notes with pride many major accomplishments achieved during his Bettendorf tenure. He points out, for example, that assessed property tax value have risen more than 125% over the last eighteen years. Additionally, the redevelopment of Duck Creek Plaza has been hugely successful.

Van Dyke argues successful economic development efforts are inevitably the product of a team effort. The Bettendorf teams has included city officials, community leaders and business owners. He particularly enjoyed working with city staff members. He says, “This has been the greatest job on earth. The most fun has been with Decker Ploehn, Greg Jager and Carol Barnes, when we brain stormed new projects. Everyone had an individual role and divergent views, but this only enhanced the creative process.”

A replacement for Van Dyke, as director of economic development, has not yet been identified, according to Decker Ploehn, city administrator. He believes finding a new person for the job might require three to six months. Ploehn adds a successful applicant ought to have certain basic qualities. That person must be a team player, an original thinker, and a self-starter. Additionally, the individual needs to execute projects through city processes, work with other units of government, create financials models of projects and be a great presenter. Or, as Ploehn comments, “He or she will have to sing the Battle Hymn of the Republic and Dixie at the same time.”

Van Dyke has no intention to leave the community upon retirement, but hopes to focus on personal projects. He says he will miss “the thrill of the deal.” He enjoyed putting projects together and seeing them through to completion, but adds, “The time has come for a new person to take up the challenge.”

Good News for Bettendorf Residents from Superintendent of Schools

Bettendorf Superintendent of Schools, Theron Schutte, has good news to share with area residents. The 2014 enrollment figures have been completed and released. The total number of student served stands at 4,707, indicating a stable school population.

Little variation in enrollment figures may not matter much to individuals unfamiliar with enrollment statistics, but this is good news, indeed, to those who follow the complex demands buffeting local school systems. Despite declining a residential student population the past few years, the Bettendorf district continues to benefit from an influx of 647 open enrolled and tuition students versus 213 students who enroll out of the district.

Over the past decade the Bettendorf Community School District has faced a slowly declining student enrollment for several reasons. First, the building out of the community’s housing stock reached completion several decades ago. With fewer families moving into the community, the student population reached a plateau and began a slow decline.

A second reason for lower student numbers decline relates to empty nester families who chose to remain in their homes, long after their children graduate from high school and leave the community. Fewer available homes combined with an aging housing stock undermines efforts to attracts sufficient families with children to support enrollment growth.

The decline in enrollment might be much worse except for two factors. First, a significant number of students enroll from outside the district attracted by the historically strong academic and extra-curricular programs and activities Bettendorf schools offer. Second, student participation in the district’s four year old preschool program has grown.

The city’s aging housing stock creates an additional problem for the school district. Older homes with a declining market value often attract lower income families. Presently, thirty per cent of Bettendorf school district children qualify for free and reduced lunches. This figure has often been cited as a measure of poverty within a community. By comparison, only twelve per cent in the Pleasant Valley School District qualify for the school lunch program.

Lower income families often do not have the necessary financial resources to provide access to educational enrichment programs. The families also may come from school districts that lack similar rigor in their curriculum or the same educational resources available in Bettendorf. The school district has to identify and access additional funding sources to underwrite the cost of offering additional programming to help low income students catch-up with their peers..

Fortunately, the district continues to succeed in its mission, as evidenced by the number and quality of students who graduate and attend college. Bettendorf students achieved an average score of 23.8 on ACT college entrance program, well above the national average score of 21 and the average score for states, such as Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Schutte arrived at the Bettendorf School District well prepared for the responsibilities he carries. He was born in Charles City and grew up in Marshalltown. He received his bachelor degree from central College in Pella and his doctorate from Iowa State University. He has served as a teacher, principal and superintendent. His move to Bettendorf in 2009 took place after serving four years as school superintendent in Boone, Iowa. He is actively involved in numerous educational and civic programs.

Challenging First Year for Ascentra Credit Union CEO

Dale Owen experienced significant challenges during his recently finished first year as president of Bettendorf-based Ascentra Credit Union.

Paul Lensmeyer, Dale’s predecessor as Ascentra CEO, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly on May 20th, 2013, following a brief illness. Paul had been a respected community leader, astute businessman and much beloved leader of the credit union for 20 years.

Fortunately for Ascentra, Lensmeyer already had initiated a succession plan, anticipating retirement in 2014 or 2015. As part of that succession planning process, Dale had been selected and thoughtfully groomed to assume CEO responsibilities for Ascentra. Dale said this about his friend, mentor and boss, “Paul Lensmeyer definitely mentored me in a way that turned out very beneficially for our credit union.”

Ascentra’s board of directors immediately appointed Dale interim CEO, upon Lensmeyer’s death, and, in September 2013, asked him to assume permanent leadership responsibilities for the business. Dale faced the daunting task of leading a grieving organization, growing Ascentra’s business services, while planning the company’s future direction.

Dale’s education and work experience helped him meet the task at hand. He is a Rock Island native and 1986 graduate of Rock Island High School. He worked his way through Black Hawk College, receiving an AAS Degree in banking and finance. He later earned a BA Degree in Public Administration from Augustana College and a Masters in Public Administration Degree from Drake University in Des Moines in 2004.

Dale began work at Ascentra in 1999, serving as chief lending officer. Previously, he worked at the First National Bank of Moline, Benton Bank, Bank One, which later became Chase Bank, and as a branch manager of Marquette Bank in Galesburg, Illinois.

Several important items remained high on Dale’s agenda during his initial year as president. First, he had to address the normal issues related to leadership transition in any organization. Second, the Scott Schools Credit Union merger with Ascentra required completion. Third, the new Ascentra branch office, in Bettendorf at the corner of 53rd and 18th Street, needed to be opened for business. Finally, Ascentra purchased property at the corner of Brady and Locusts Streets to construct a branch office to better serve members of the merged Scott Schools Credit Union. Construction on that branch begins soon.

The issue of I-74 bridge construction looms large for Ascentra, as a downtown Bettendorf business. Dale remains excited about the opportunities that open up in the future, but mindful of dislocation issues caused by a major construction project.

Recently, Ascentra sought recognition from the U. S. Treasury as a Certified Development Financial Institution. This program opens the door to access federal government financial resources that protect a credit union from losses, while allowing grants for economic development to be obtained for under served areas. Dale believes this program can have a major impact on future downtown Bettendorf development.

Throughout this past year of transition, Dale has been deeply grateful to his wife, Angela, their four children and the employees and members of Ascentra who have been supportive of him during a time of great change.

One Family’s Bettendorf History

Former Bettendorf alderman, Norm Voelliger has not only been a witness to much of Bettendorf’s history, but an active participant in the city’s ongoing growth and development.

Norm’s roots in the community run deep. His mother’s family, the Bachs, settled in Bettendorf around 1905, when William and Joseph Bettendorf relocated their factory to the city’s river front and gave their name to the town. His grandfather worked at the plant which revolutionized the railroad industry with cast steel trucks for railroad cars.

The Voelliger side of Norm’s family moved to Bettendorf in the early 1920’s. His father, Paul, and Uncle Art opened a gas station with a single pump at 14th and State Streets on February 22nd, 1922. The station eventually became a Texaco station, after previous incarnations, as a Midway and DX service station. Later the Voelliger brothers added a hardware store and auto repair garage to their business. They also built the City Center Motel which still stands on State Street, though the family sold their interest in the property in 1982

Paul Voelliger and his wife, Dorothy Voelliger resided in a home at 10th and Brown Streets. Coincidentally, they lived across the road from Clarence Brown, famously remembered for accepting the challenge to raise $15,000 necessary to purchase the Gilbert farm property on the Mississippi River front to attract the Bettendorf Axle Company to locate their factory there.

Norm could say, in the immortal words of Yankee great Yogi Berra, “It’s deja vu all over again,” when it comes to issues related to the I-74 bridge construction project. As a child, Norm watched the first span of the suspension bridge constructed about 1935, after 25 years of planning. Before that time, no bridge linked Moline and Bettendorf.

The second span of the bridge was erected between 1958 and 1959 and officially opened and dedicated on January 20th 1960. This span also required property to be purchased and buildings demolished in downtown Bettendorf. The Voelligers lost their station, but rebuilt at a new location.

Eight years later the federal government took ownership of the bridge from the Davenport Bridge Commission. The bridge then became a link in the growing Interstate Highway System. The Voelliger brothers sold their gas station to the government in 1966, as part of the I-74 overpass construction process.

With the family gas station gone, Norm changed careers and became a Mel Foster real estate agent, but in 1969 he went to work for the Prudential Life Insurance Company, eventually becoming both an agent and sales manager. He retired from that position in 1991.

Throughout much of his life, Norm has been engaged in city government. He served as city treasurer, first ward alderman and alderman at large and on the board of adjustments. His family has long been involved in the city’s volunteer fire department. He served on the fire department for 39 years and was assistant chief for 23 years. Norm worked with Bettendorf mayors Bill Glynn, Ann Hutchison, Mike Freemire and now Robert Gallagher. He still vividly recalls the stressful period in 1988, when the city’s debt caused a crisis..

Today Norm and his wife, Carol live up on the hill above downtown Bettendorf. They have three sons and six grandchildren and remain actively engaged in civic and social activities.

K and K Hardware Serving Bettendorf for 74 Years

About 74 years ago, Boyd Keller had an enterprising idea.

Boyd, a local electrical contractor who also sold appliances in the Bettendorf area, encountered a persistent problem. He couldn’t find the right bolts, nuts, screws and other items needed to serve his customers.

But then Boyd was an entrepreneur at heart. He decided to open a hardware store in downtown Bettendorf that kept everything in stock required to operate his other businesses. Together with a partner, named Mr. Kurtz, they opened a hardware store and called their new business K and K Hardware. A year later Mr. Kurtz left the area and moved to California.

From those early days in 1940, and for the rest of their lives, Boyd Keller, and his wife, Adeline, worked side by side, serving the Bettendorf community. Adeline passed away in 1995 and Boyd in 2007. Next year will be the 75th year for K and K Hardware. Be assured the Keller family plans to celebrate the successful business Boyd and Adeline created.

A hardware store changes with the times to meet customer needs. But the values upon which K and K Hardware was built have not changed. For example, the Keller family still owns and operates the store. Don Keller, Boyd and Adeline’s son, and his wife, Coleen, follow in the tradition of Don’s parents. Don’s sister, Darlene, had long been active in the business, but retired. It continues to be a locally-owed, family business.

A third generation intends to take over operational responsibilities for the store. Don and Coleen’s daughter. Kortney Gaura, manages the office.. Casey Keller, a son, works on IT issues. Kristi Keller, a second daughter, serves as floor manager. Chris Gaura, Kortney’s husband, has developed online sales which have grown well beyond initial expectations. A fourth generation of Kellers, including Don and Coleen’s grandchildren Josephina and Grant Gaura and Ezekiel and Zacchaeus Keller, may well lead the business to it’s one hundredth anniversary.

The Kellers, of course, cannot manage their business alone. Most days, 40-50 employees regularly greet customers shopping at K and K. Many young people in the Bettendorf community learned the retail business, working after school and during the summers at the store.

Boyd’s business philosophy centered on his belief customers always comes first. Customer service sets K and K Hardware apart from big box stores. No one walks through the store without an employee stepping forward to offer assistance. Customers often find themselves greeted on a first name basis.

The other day Tim Baldwin, another downtown businessman who lives in Port Byron, said he drives from Illinois to shop at K and K. What draws him to the store? Tim says, “Phenomenal service and, if K and K doesn’t have it, no one else does.”

The Kellers remain grateful for their community support. They routinely return that community support by sponsoring Park Board youth activities, allowing various charitable organizations to conduct sales at the store entrance and donating to other worthy causes. There’s another reason Bettendorf residents continue to be loyal K and K customers.

Ross’s Restaurant

For over 75 years, Ross’s Restaurant has been a familiar fixture in downtown Bettendorf, serving not only local residents, but drawing customers from throughout the Quad City region and beyond. But that changes next year.

As part of the new I-74 bridge construction project, Ross’s Restaurant will be acquired by the State of Iowa and demolished, along with more than forty other properties in the bridge’s path.

Ron and Cynthia Freidoff and their daughter, Melissa, are the restaurant’s owners. Cynthia’s father and mother Harold and Sylvia “June” Ross originally conceived and founded the business. Harold passed away in 1980.

The Freidhofs have been on a well publicized journey, trying to find a new location for their restaurant. They researched locations in Davenport, Moline and Bettendorf, but found nothing suitable yet. The State takes possession of the property in August 2015, though the restaurant will remain open to that time or until a new building has been acquired or built.

Two factors complicate the search process. First, the Freidhofs want to remain as close as possible to the I-74 corridor. Their customers come almost evenly from Iowa and Illinois communities. Secondly, a new restaurant will cost around $2.5 million and they need to avoid taking on excessive debt. Retaining their customers and keeping debt low remain their priorities. They have had many sleepless nights trying to resolve these issues.

Recently, the Freidhofs were cheered to learn they received the American’s Best Restaurant Families’ Grand Prize. This national and highly competitive award recognizes the unique contribution the Freidhofs have made to the restaurant industry.

This is not the first time Ross’s Restaurant attracted national attention. Many residents recall both President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, during campaign trips to Iowa, had meals at the diner. Luminaries, such as Jimi Hendrix, Chuck Berry, Bette Midler, Johnny Cash, NYC Mayor Rudolph Guiliani, have also stopped by. Television news programs from both the Netherlands and Argentina featured the diner on their channels.

When President Obama came to town, he ordered the best known item on Ross’s menu, The Magic Mountain. The Magic Mountain is made with grilled Texas toast, homemade hash browns or french fries, 100% Iowa beef, a homemade cheddar cheese sauce and chopped onions. Customer sometime request the Magic Mountain Volcano which features Ross’s spicy chili poured down the cheese covered slopes.

The Freidhof’s daughter, Melissa, points out other menu items now feature organically grown ingredients. Gluten free, vegetarian and low carb food, along with a double chocolate vegan cake, can also be ordered.

The Freidhofs treat customers and employees as family. Many years ago Ray Kroc, the founder of the MacDonald’s Restaurant chain, offered Harold Ross the chance to become the franchisee for the Quad City region. Ross refused the offer, remaining committed to the small restaurant ideal. Interestingly, the lyric from the “Cheers” television series could be applied to the ambiance Harold encouraged for his restaurants.

Be glad there’s one place in the world Where everybody knows your name,
And they’re always glad you came.
That’s Ross’s Restaurant.