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.