April 20, 2024

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Rock Island receives state grant to redesign Arts Alley in downtown district | Politics and elections

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A grant from the state of Illinois will revitalize Arts Alley in the heart of downtown Rock Island into a vibrant focal point for arts and culture. 

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) awarded $267,000 to the city of Rock Island and the Quad Cities Chamber for the renovation of the alley, 1719 2nd Ave., Rock Island. The grant adds to $534,000 raised in funding for the project with support from the Doris & Victor Day Foundation, Quad City Arts, Rauch Family Foundation, Rock Island Arts Guild and Rock Island Community Foundation. Additional matching funds will come from the city’s downtown TIF district, which has a balance of $1.5 million.

“It takes a collaborative team to make these things happen,” Rock Island Mayor Mike Thoms said during a press conference Tuesday afternoon in Arts Alley. “This is just the beginning of what we’re going to see. We’re going to continue to thrive and continue to work hard.”

The pedestrian space between 17th and 18th Streets will feature professional murals, ornate signage, lighting, interactive art installations, spaces for live performances and film screenings, new pavement, landscaping and a heating component to make it accessible throughout the year. Vendor stalls also will be available for rent to artists and small business owners during seasonal pop-up shop programs.

Designed by Streamline Architects, the project will begin this fall and finish in 2023. 

Arts Alley is one component of a planned multi-million dollar downtown revitalization that will include an urban dog park, reconstruction of the Great River Plaza, streetscaping and construction of a pedestrian gateway between the downtown business district and Schwiebert Riverfront Park.

Thoms said the city also applied for a matching $3 million grant from the State of Illinois Rebuild Downtowns Capital Grant Program.

Jack Cullen, downtown Rock Island director for the Quad Cities Chamber, said Arts Alley was created in 1994 to fill a gap left by a demolished building as an effort to create a gateway between the downtown district and the riverfront. 

Cullen said the grant award from the Tourism Attraction Grant Program is extremely competitive and will help “put downtown Rock Island on the map.”

“What we’re wanting to do with this project is take it to the next level and create a tourist attraction, a destination for the Quad Cities, downtown Rock Island and beyond,” he said. “We believe the new designs, coupled with the plans to program the space, really have the capability to do just that — turn it into a true tourist attraction and destination for the community.”

Quad City Arts Executive Director Kevin Maynard said Quad City Arts is assisting the project in finding artists and the right style of art to put in the space. 

“Arts Alley is what Quad-City Arts is about. It’s about activating our public spaces with art and about putting artists to work,” Maynard said. “To be able to do that right outside of our building is an incredible feeling. We’re very excited to make that happen. It is truly going to make this ‘Arts Alley.’

“People go out of their way to see public art,” he said. “Over 68% of tourism is driven by art. Cultural tourists spend nearly twice as much money when visiting a community.”

Dave Herrell, President and CEO of Visit Quad Cities, said the community must come together and support artists. 

“Arts and culture has to be prioritized, and not only by our institutions, but our artists,” Herrell said. “There is an amazing amount of global artistry in our region.”

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