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. firstname.lastname@example.org. Three-year term.
Vice President (tentative): Roseann Cervantes, (309) 738-3586. email@example.com. 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. firstname.lastname@example.org. Three-year term.
Today is Wednesday, March 12, the 71st day of 2014. There are 294 days left in the year. 1864 -- 150 years ago: Soldiers from the barracks on the Arsenal manage to elude the vigilance of the guard nearly every day and come to town armed. In the hands of excited and perhaps intoxicated men, these weapons are dangerous. 1889 -- 125 years ago: Manufacturing's merchants and professional men of Moline were petitioning the Western Union Telegraph company to establish a telegraph office in the business area of the city. 1914 -- 100 years ago: Three Rock Island students, the Misses Eleanor Cleaveland, Dorothy McCabe and Ruth West, escaped injury when fire destroyed College Hall at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. 1939 -- 75 years ago: The Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War gave a party for William H. Stremmel, the only survivor of John Buford Post 243, GAR. 1964 -- 50 years ago: The East Moline Grade School Board of Education last night granted salary increases totaling about $47,000 to teachers and staff members. 1989 -- 25 years ago: Five champion spellers from the Rock Island/Milan School district were selected after competition this week at Modern Woodmen of America. Winners are Sarah Cottay, Christopher Gilbrich, Jared Vogele, Kedric Roper and Kenny Stevenson.