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.