Originally Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2012, 11:32 pm
Last Updated: Nov. 12, 2012, 8:29 am

Carmen, RI redevelopment administrator, retires

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By Dawn Neuses dneuses@qconline.com

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Photo: Paul Colletti
Alan Carmen retired from his economic development position with the City of Rock Island on November 2. While serving in the position Mr. Carmen helped realize several city projects including Schwiebert Park.

ROCK ISLAND — Alan Carmen went to college to become an architect, but said he changed plans when he realized he wasn't artistic.

However, he found another way to impact how a community looks, functions and thrives.

Mr. Carmen retired last week, after 32 years with the city of Rock Island, 26 as planning and redevelopment administrator.He started as an urban planner.

When Mr. Carmen discusses Rock Island's redevelopment success, he gives the credit to city officials and staffers, people he said saw opportunity when the Quad-Cities manufacturing market tanked in the mid-'80s and created a vision.

"It was a case of me working behind the scenes of talented people working for the city or consultants we hired. They are in the positions to do these things, to come up with options and the details that make Rock Island livable, usable and pretty," he said while standing in Schwiebert Riverfront Park.

However, people he worked with through the years said Mr. Carmen saw opportunities, and actions he took led to many successes for the city.

Diane Oestreich, a longtime Rock Island preservation advocate,saidMr. Carmen's involvement in city neighborhood groups, neighborhood improvement plans and historic preservation made a difference.

"He was involved in things that have absolutely turned this community around in residential areas," she said. "Our residential areas are very important and do cultivate economic development. He knew that."

She said Mr. Carmen empowered others by listening to them and keeping an open mind."He values what they have to say and has empathy for what people need and want."

Mayor Dennis Pauley said Mr. Carmen is modest. While a vision was provided by city officials, "Alan always provided background and opportunities for the redevelopment of different buildings," he said.

Mr. Carmen had a hand in redeveloping many buildings into housing and always was creative in finding ways to put buildings back in use, Mayor Pauley said. "Historic preservation was Alan's passion."

Mr. Carmen said he's proud of his involvement in co-writing the city's preservation ordinance and serving as the staff liaison to historic groups. "It really set the stage for recognizing and cherishing our heritage, architectural and historical, and identifies properties worthy of protection.

"Since the ordinance was approved in 1984, overall we have had many, many more victories in terms of saving properties, reinventing them and salvaging them so they have useful lives for many, many years to come," Mr. Carmen said.

Not every building can be saved, he said. Some, such as the former Lincoln School, surpass their useful life. "However, that whole element of preservation, history, heritage, and the celebration of that, combined with working again with the neighborhoods, has made Rock Island stand out, not only in the Quad-Cities, but the Midwest."

Mr. Carmen's first task for Rock Island was to get Abbey Station listed on the National Register of Historic Places. At that time, the former train depot at 3031 5th St., was in dire need of repair.

The depot received National Register designation in 1982, and in 1999 the city sold it to Abbey Station LLC, which renovated the depot and re-opened it in 2000 as a reception hall.

Mr. Carmen said the depot is a perfect example of taking the long route. There is no instant gratification, he said. "The depot took 18 years. When it was done, it was like graduating high school."

His retirement session last week was hosted at Abbey Station. Things always go in cycles, Mr. Carmen said.

He describes Rock Island as"thriving, rejuvenating, and to some degree, reinventing itself."

Schwiebert Riverfront Park was an example.He said discussions about recapturing the riverfront began in the mid-1980s. "It wasn't until two years ago when it opened we were able to achieve that goal."

The $12.5 million park is on the former Rock Island Armory and Jumer's Casino site. It has Mississippi River water access; an open-air stage; interactive, digital playground and spray fountain; waterfront promenade; bike trail access and landscaped green space.

Mr. Carmen said there is more to come for the city. "There are opportunities in areas where we have literally cleared sites and cleared the stage for future development. There are a lot of exciting things yet to happen in the next several months, and certainly in the next few years."

However, Mr. Carmen felt it was time to to retire. He said that next year, he plans to run for Rock Island Township supervisor.

He will miss the relationships he established with residents, community leaders and co-workers. But those relationships are just on a hiatus, he said.

If successful in his race for office, Mr. Carmen said "it will just be a matter of reconnecting to them and to continue to build and strengthen those connections."

Mayor Pauley said Mr. Carmen will be greatly missed. "He did an excellent job for the city. There was an element Alan provided that we have to find a way to recapture."

Alan Carmen
Age: 59
Family: Married for 29 years to Brenda; stepson Herb Carmen and daughter-in-law Dr. Deborah Bradbard, granddaughters Sarah and Hannah; stepdaughter Kaycee and grandson, Connor.
Hometown: Philedelphia. However, "Rock Island and the Quad-Cities feel more like home. It is where our kids were raised, our grandchild was born and is still here." 
Employment: Started working for the city Dec. 15, 1980 as a city planner. Retired Nov. 2 after 26 years as Rock Island's planning and redevelopment administrator.
Education: B.S. in community development, Penn State, 1975; Masters degree in urban and regional planning, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1977.