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Conventions help fuel Q-C tourism

Dispatch/Argus Photo By Nobuko Oyabu

Joe Taylor, acting president/CEO and director of communications and membership for the Quad Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau, sits in snowy LeClaire Park. Tourism in the Quad-Cities has been greatly increasing over the past few years.

DAVENPORT -- There's a new mantra in Quad-Cities tourism circles -- conventions, conventions, conventions.

Area tourism groups have upped efforts to attract meetings, tournaments, reunions, conventions, and other gatherings, which means more visitors -- and more dollars -- in the Quad-Cities. The efforts are paying off. Tourism is on the rise.

Last year's annual report for the Quad Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau, showed that visitor spending totaled $144 million, up $50 million from the previous year.

Joe Taylor, Convention & Visitors Bureau acting president/ceo and director of communications, said he can't credit one thing for the jump. It's a combination of many things, he said.

``The trend is not only new attractions, but upgraded attractions,'' Mr. Taylor said, noting the refurbished and improved Family Museum of Arts and Science in Bettendorf as an example.

Of course, the official opening of the John Deere Commons last summer, and the additional shops and restaurants in downtown Moline can't be ignored. ``Not only is there more to promote,'' Mr. Taylor said, ``but more and more of the development is state-of-the-art.''

Top-notch attractions, including the river, draw tourists, Mr. Taylor said. ``The (river) is a must-see for groups that come to the Midwest.''

River-related activities such as riverboat gambling are a big hit, too. Officials at the Mississippi Valley Welcome Center in LeClaire said the casinos were one of last year's most popular attractions for out-of-towners.

The river and riverboats likely will be just two of the attractions for visitors at the Women's International Bowling Congress, expected to draw up to 40,000 women between April and July.

Besides being an economic shot-in-the-arm, Mr. Taylor said it will be educational. ``It will teach our community about the importance of hosting conventions. We'll learn more about the impact'' large groups have on the area, he said.

One of the Bureau's goals this year is to attract more conventions, not only through marketing, but with the help of ordinary Quad-Cities residents through the ``Bring Your Meeting Home'' program. It encourages residents who belong to clubs or professional organizations to urge the group to hold its conventions here.

That's how the Quad-Cities got the bowling convention, Mr. Taylor said, quickly adding that conventions aren't the only draw. Events like Bald Eagle Days and the Aledo Rhubarb Festival might draw smaller, but just as important, numbers.

The key, he said, is to impress visitors enough that, through word of mouth, they encourage others to visit the Quad-Cities.

While local professional sports teams such as the River Bandits, Thunder and Mallards mainly draw regional audiences, Mr. Taylor said their success is important for tourism, because it adds to the ``resume of the Quad-Cities.''

Tourism and LeClaire village officials broke ground Jan. 7 for two new motels at the junction of U.S. 61 and Interstate 80. Organizers also hope to include a fast-food restaurant, convenience store and strip mall on the 6.4-acre site.

``With this project, LeClaire will no longer be saddled with the reputation of being just another sleepy rivertown on the Ole Miss','' Mayor Vern Spring said at the ceremony.

Lady Luck Casino Bettendorf also is building a 261-room hotel adjacent to its riverboat site.

Mr. Taylor said the surge in development and tourism is the culmination of years of planning. When the farm machine industry hit a low in the 1980s, it sparked the move toward diversifying the appeal of the Quad-Cities.

Even as development moved forward, the area hasn't lost its homey feel, Mr. Taylor said.

``We're a metro area with all the amenities of a metro area, but we still maintain a small town flavor,'' where everyone still is a name and not a number.

-- By Marcy Norton (February 2, 1998)

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