East Moline's Watertown neighborhood has faded over the years, but advocates such as Gary Westbrook and Nate Lawrence hope to make it bright again.
Mr. Westbrook, an East Moline alderman, and Mr. Lawrence, an arts advocate and community activist, helped create the new Watertown Community Empowerment Coalition. The goal is to improve the area, which is generally centered around 19th Street north of 18th Avenue.
Both men have long ties to Watertown.
Ald. Westbrook's father started a church near the intersection of 4th Avenue and 12th Street. Just up the street is an unassuming two-story house with a yellow door.
"I was born in this house," Mr. Lawrence said, during a recent tour of the area with a reporter.
They recalled a vibrant life in which good jobs weren't hard to find, and Sunday baseball games drew everybody. There was a community center; an open-air market; several schools; and a business district with restaurants, a grocery store and a "five and dime."
Watertown has changed significantly since the men were young.
Along with the rest of the Quad-Cities, its residents lost jobs as the manufacturing sector shrunk after 1980.
The business district lost the stores -- outpaced by large retail districts, they said.
The schools also closed. One became subsidized housing. Another now houses Hampton Township administration. The other sits vacant. They were closed because of consolidation, Mr. Lawrence said.
The community center also is gone, a victim of a devastating flood in the 1960s, said Ald. Westbrook.
Some businesses remain, including a tire shop, a funeral home and gas stations, but other basic needssuch as groceries no longer can be met by simply walking down the street, they said.
"To be quite honest, I don't know how many strengths are left in the community besides the people themselves," Ald. Westbrook said.
Both men, and others, are trying to bring about a renaissance for Watertown.
Mr. Lawrence said that improving the services in the neighborhood, making life there more sustainable, is a key to growth. If there is nothing to keep people there, they won't stay, and Watertown won't grow.
"If we were able to put a grocery store in the area, people would much rather go there than get on the bus and go to Walmart," he said.
Also high on the list, Mr. Lawrence said, are a new community center and a community garden.
A neighborhood center could become a hub with computer access and room for classes, including adult education language courses, he said.
He said community gardens in other areas have had a positive effect. "They tend to galvanize the community," he said.
Ald. Westbrook said future generations will need a strong base for their own improvements.
Mr. Lawrence said the people of the neighborhood also need to be more involved in their government, something they once did more effectively than now.
The new coalition hopes to achieve these and other goals.
The group is seeking nonprofit status and will have a board that regularly meets and changes members.
Watertown has seen pushes for neighborhood improvement before, but they ran out of steam or were overwhelmed by the task, Mr. Lawrence said.
By organizing this way, Watertown's cheerleaders are hoping the coalition will remain vitalized, he said. A rotating board membership will keep fresh perspectives available and generate a pool of experienced activists to keep efforts going.
"This (effort) is an exercise in sustainability," he said.
The group has had several meetings. An initial steering committee has picked a board, which has elected officers and adopted bylaws.
Board members will serve either three-year, two-year or one-year terms. The meetings of the coalition are open to the public.
About 50 people attended a meeting in May, while 20 attended a meeting earlier this month. The most recent meeting on Thursday was smaller, including about half the board, Ald. Westbrook and a few others. Many of the other board members were out of town. It was at this meeting that the officers were elected.
East Moline Mayor John Thodos said he supports the group's mission.
Watertown is one of the oldest parts of East Moline, and many of the people in the coalition are tied to the neighborhood, he said.
He agrees that a grocery store is needed in the area and said other needs readily can be identified.
When people get involved, as the members of the coalition are attempting to do, quite a lot can be accomplished, he said. "I am always encouraged when you have grassroots support (for a goal)," Mayor Thodos said.
The Members of The Watertown Community Empowerment Coalition Board:
President: Larry Westbrook, (309) 736-3540. email@example.com. Three-year term.
Vice President (tentative): Roseann Cervantes, (309) 738-3586. firstname.lastname@example.org. Ms. Cervantes was not present when she was chosen on Thursday and must still accept the nomination. One-year term.
Treasurer: Robert Mason, (309) 337-6669. email@example.com. Three-year term.
Today is Monday, April 21, the 111th day of 2014. There are 254 days left in the year.
1864 -- 150 years ago: The female sex seems to have gone crazy on the subject of dry goods. When high prices keep them from increasing their wardrobes, they turn to stealing. Yard goods, hats, shoes and other items are being picked up and carried home. 1889 -- 125 years ago: Members of Everts Commandery No. 18, Knights Templar, under Commander H.C. Cleaveland, marched from the Masonic Temple to Trinity Episcopal Church for their annual Easter services. 1914 -- 100 years ago: Nate Hultgren pitched the Augustana College baseball team to a 10-3 victory over Carthage, striking out 11 men and allowing only four hits. 1939 -- 75 years ago: Marvel Leonhardi, a Rock Island High School senior, was the winner of an essay contest on advertising sponsored by The Argus and Advertising Age, a national advertising publication. 1964 -- 50 years ago: The Augustana College band drew a crowd of 1,200 people for its annual home concert in Centennial Hall. The size of the crowd was indicative of the fact the band is rapidly approaching the stature of the Augustana Choir. 1989 -- 25 years ago: A benefit to raise money for extracurricular activities in the Rock Island Milan School District will be April 27 at the Quad City Downs harness race track. People buying $17.50 tickets to the second annual "Night at the Quad City Downs" will be entitled to an evening of harness racing and dinner.