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April 19, 2006

The Freight House issue...

Do a nice paint job on that rusty yellow boxcar or get rid of it.

I'm assuming that will be among the recommendations emerging from any study on what to do with the Freight House, in downtown Davenport.

The hulk adds to the impression that the building is, well, what it is: an abandoned eyesore.

Several sustained efforts over several years to turn the place into a nightclub or such have failed. The emergence of the Redstone Room at River Music Experience lengthens the odds that any music-based use of the Freight House will succeed. So what to do?

Tearing it down seems like a really bad idea. Leaving it as is, isn't any kind of option. That gets us to cleaning it up and finding a use for it.

That's pretty much where we are. Davenport One is willing to put $20,000 into a study, with the emphasis on the possibilities of a public market; the city is trying to convince Vision Iowa to chip in on any project that results; the city's also authorized a bond issue, $900,000 of which might be used on renovating the Freight House, if there's a plan with a reasonable chance of succeeding when the time comes to actually sell bonds.

The nay-sayers are busy. There are anti-petitions being circulated, apparently with the intent of convincing the Vision Iowa board that there's no public support for the project. It's easy to undertand their viewpoint; a lot of money's gone into downtown the last few years and there are needs all through the city, which seems always on the verge of either cutting vital services or hampering their effective delivery in the hope of saving money. (By the way, where are we on the firefighters-as-building-inspectors issue?)

Recognizing there are needs all over, it's still a good idea to keep moving on all fronts. Downtown Davenport is a lot nicer place that it was four or five years ago. I even like the Sky Bridge though, as I've said before, it wouldn't have been the first place I would have spent $7 million. But it happened and I think time will only increase its value to the city.

Renovating downtowns produces arguments everywhere. About every decision Moline made over the last 16 years regarding the River Drive area was controversial because of the public money that was spent. The results seem pretty clearly worth it --or did you never drive the area before The Mark was there?

Same's true in Rock Island. There was vocal opposition to just about everything that's done to create and sustain the Arts & Entertainment District downtown. Arguing still, as a matter of fact.

Anyway, there are plenty of places that have used old railroad buildings effectively. Actually, you can look right next door to the Freight House for an example. Union Station has been nicely cleaned up and turned into office space -- the tourism bureau and the Mississippi Valley Blues Society are among the tenants there.

Maybe the public market idea isn't the right thing -- but let's not strangle the baby in the cradle. Let's see what the study says and go from there. Be nice to have the Freight House piece of the puzzle in place as we look ahead to the really tough stuff.

Can anybody say Black Hawk Hotel? My generally supportive view of what's going on downtown may be gone if and when the city starts talking about dumping our tax dollars into that place. If the price tag is any higher than the $1 we've agreed to pay the Isle of Capri for the privilege of taking over that white elephant (and subsidizing construction of new hotel down on the riverfront), I'm against it.

Posted by jcb at April 19, 2006 05:08 PM


I agree the boxcar needs painting, but I don't agree with Wundram that its ugly in itself. The guy who advocated painting the entire government bridge pink is against a freight car as a decoration for a freight house? I am biased, since I'm a railfan, but I always thought it was a cool idea to use a boxcar as the cold storage for the Freight House restuarant.

Hopefully they could find a use for it in whatever new concept the end up with.

Posted by: QuadCityImages at April 19, 2006 06:41 PM

What happened with a private investment remaining private. An investor rolled the dice and lost - why on earth is the City coming to the rescue of a developer. I am so thankful that I am not a resident of Davenport as this is insane. I am an Illinois resident, considering moving, but Davenport is not on my radar screen when they would build a $7-million skywalk to no where - and now consider taking public funds to save a private developer.

Posted by: Anonymous at April 19, 2006 08:35 PM

How about turning it into an old-folks home? It's close to the casino, its not terribly important that they be close to schools/shopping and parking isn't really an issue (the casino would pick them up and drop them off). The only issue would be noise during the festival season. Solution: Put the hard of hearing residents on the sides that face the river and the park.

Posted by: Anonymous at April 20, 2006 01:32 PM

For the 15 millionth time, the city of Davenport spent $500,000 on the Skybridge. The casino and state of Iowa paid the rest (roughly $6 million).

Whatever happens with the Freight House, it needs to be something "outside the box". Trying the same stuff again that has already failed there isn't going to work. The city should try and get the best deal possible, hopefully working directly with Larry Whitty who is on the hook with the lease. A public market is one idea, I'm sure there are others.

Posted by: Anonymous at April 24, 2006 11:24 PM

Maybe the City should scrap the million-dollar skatepark and move it over to the Freight House, where it can be a three-million dollar skatepark.

Posted by: Anonymous at April 27, 2006 10:22 AM