From the pages of

Rock Island seeing a Renaissance

Dispatch/Argus Photo By Chuck Thomas

Dan Carmody, executive director of Renaissance Rock Island, Rock Island Economic Growth Corp. and Development Association of Rock Island, stands next to the Pressed Steel Works building, which will be demolished. Behind him is the Quad City Botanical Center, which should be completed this summer.

ROCK ISLAND -- Cheers ring loud for Renaissance Rock Island, a team that has no trouble winning. When Renaissance Rock Island wins, the quality of life in Rock Island improves.

A drive through Rock Island reveals many of the team's recent victories, including Dohrn Transfer's renovations to the former J I Case plant, Augustana College's new science and technology buildings, Watch Tower Plaza's redevelopment, Quad City Botanical Center's new construction, and Rock Island-Milan School District's referendum for $29 million to improve buildings.

The Development Association of Rock Island (DARI) and the Rock Island Economic Growth Corp. (RIECG) make up the Renaissance Rock Island team. DARI promotes commercial, industrial and recreational development, while RIEGC is responsible for neighborhood revitalization.

Dan Carmody, executive director of both DARI and RIEGC, guides the players through their innovative approach to community-based economic development. The approach is unique, he said, because a number of programs are managed under one roof. Overall coordination, he said, allows the community's limited resources to be used effectively throughout the city, not just downtown.

Renaissance Rock Island also gets things done fast, he said, because DARI and RIEGC mostly rely on private funds, bypassing the delays associated with getting major state or federal grants.

The get-it-done-now approach has meant steady progress in a number of directions, rather than depending on one monumental project, Mr. Carmody said.

The preservation of historical and architectural treasures through public and private partnerships is more than a buzzword in Rock Island, he said. It's a way of life.

Finally, he said, Renaissance Rock Island works because it involves everybody: neighbors, small businesses, large businesses, city government, and school-district leaders.

No simple plan can successfully attack this comprehensive agenda, Mr. Carmody said. More effective, he said, is the complex series of organizations that overlap and interrelate, including The District and Downtown 2000.

``We're one of the few agencies that does downtown and neighborhood revitalization out of the same office,'' Mr. Carmody said. ``We feel very strongly the health of each is very dependent on the other's success.

``We're pretty much recognized as having state-of-the-art programs for community-led strategic planning,'' he said.

Festival management through offices of The District is recognized as among the best in the Midwest, he said. The state of Illinois' Main Street program sent people to Rock Island to learn how to run festivals and other special events. The International Downtown Association gave the Downtown 2000 plan a merit award.

A community-marketing campaign supported by the city and school district is the only one of its kind in the nation, as far as Mr. Carmody knows. Marketing director Beverly Murray spends her days at two offices, one at Renaissance Rock Island and one at the school district's headquarters.

Working for DARI is never dull because an enormous variety of projects always are under way, Mr. Carmody said.

``We're here to help businesses grow, and it's always fun to be part of new successes,'' he said. ``The tremendous cooperation between the public and private sectors in Rock Island is gratifying, because people are more concerned with getting things done than who gets credit.''

A great staff, he said, makes coming to work enjoyable.

DARI started with 14 members in 1988 and has grown to 62 today, Mr. Carmody said. The group hopes to have 70 members by the end of this year. Annual dues range from $1,100 to $5,250 from businesses throughout the Quad-Cities area.

This year's new president is publisher Jerry Taylor of The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus. Phyllis Schwindt is vice president, secretary is Mike Kearney and treasurer is Perry Hansen.

RIEGC's officers are president Bob Nixon, vice president Ron Schorg and secretary-treasurer Greg Champagne.

``Membership in DARI has been a good investment for my company, and I think it will be for your company, too,'' last year's president, Stuart Thoms of Thoms Proestler Co., said.

``DARI is at the center of economic recovery in Rock Island. Rock Island is challenged in many ways, and through your membership in DARI, you can contribute towards community betterment, build better contacts for your business, and become more knowledgeable about the critical issues that will shape the local economy for you, your company and your family.''

-- By Carol Loretz (February 9, 1998)

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