aerial photo downtown Rock Island

Viewpoint: SSA right move for downtown Rock Island

This guest editorial was published Dec. 1, 2022, in the Quad-City Times. Authors: Arron Sutherland, President/CEO, Illinois Casualty Company, and Chair, Downtown Rock Island Steering Committee; and Nicole Watson-Lam, Owner, Ms. BriMani’s Hair & Beauty Supply and The Urban Reserve, and Vice Chair, Downtown Rock Island Steering Committee

Downtown Rock Island is on the verge of a major revitalization.Arron Sutherland

Transformative capital improvements to public spaces are forthcoming, thanks in part to large grants secured by the Quad Cities Chamber in partnership with the City of Rock Island. There are also exciting private projects in development and many more on the horizon. The timing could not be better to leverage our growing momentum. These investments will garner a stronger return for all of downtown if the public and private sectors work together to maintain, program, promote and continue to improve the area above and beyond what the municipality can do alone.

As property owners, we have the power to enable and oversee an enhanced level of services and activities for downtown Rock Island thro

ugh the establishment of a Special Service Area (SSA). The overarching goal of an SSA is to create a safer, more welcoming and vibrant downtown. We believe having a dedicated team of people and resources giving the city’s central commercial neighborhood the daily attention and support it deserves will help accomplish that goal.

At least seven other commercial corridors and neighborhoods in the Quad Cities, plus hundreds more throughout Illinois and Iowa and about 2,500 in the U.S., are using this mechanism to their advantage, which is why the Downtown Rock Island Steering Committee proposed it as part of the City’s ongoing revitalization efforts.

It’s very important to us to see a thriving downtown Rock Island and we want to be involved in making the community become all it can be. Downtown Rock Island has so much potential. This public-private partnership is the right direction to go as it will help our businesses and properties thrive and benefit our entire community.

We were sold on the SSA when we learned we would have a voice in the decisions – and we are willing to pay more for these services. Through the establishment of an SSA, special services are paid for by a levy on all taxable parcels within the district’s contiguous boundaries, roughly the area between 1st and 7th Avenues and 13th and 28th Streets. Those funds are restricted to improving the business and cultural environment of the area, and property owners on a governing board of directors would help guide specific use of the funds.

Proposed services downtown include greater beautification and maintenance; boots-on-the-ground hospitality and troubleshooting; capital improvement grants; business attraction and retention; marketing and advertising; government advocacy; and special promotions and events.

We acknowledge there are challenges downtown. We can overcome them, but it requires a directed effort, and it’s going to take work to get there. When business and property owners along with the City share a vision and work together, downtown will be successful.

In the absence of another plan on the table, the alternative – simply giving up – is not a viable option. The time is now to move forward with a proven path and create an SSA in partnership with a new place management organization affiliated with the Quad Cities Chamber to help revitalize downtown Rock Island.