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“Brady and Harrison Acquired a Voice”: Davenport’s Hilltop Campus Village Thinks Small (and Big) to Reinvent Itself - Page 2 PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 05 July 2012 05:59

Structure and Synergy

The Hilltop Campus Village is bound by Lombard Street on the north, Perry Street on the east, Fifth Street on the south, and Ripley to the west – with a jog to Gaines from 17th to Lombard streets to encompass St. Ambrose.

It has several advantages over many downtown-renewal efforts. It has stable and strong anchors in Palmer and St. Ambrose. It already has a residential base, and as a result has many amenities downtown districts struggle to attract: gas stations, two drugstores, and a grocery store. Brady Street has a number of churches that have been involved in the revitalization effort. The Davenport Community School District’s headquarters are in the Hilltop Campus Village, as is Central High School.

With the volume of educational institutions and churches, Frantz said, he wondered: “Why the hell’s there even a problem?”

What the area lacked, Soults wrote, was “this structure and synergy.” Improvements might be made to one property, but they were merely improvements to one property. The organization, she said, “fosters massive amounts of incremental changes to happen again and again and again.”

A board was created in June 2009, its application to be a Main Street Iowa district was approved, and Tunnicliff was hired as director in August of that year.

It’s important to note that a Main Street Iowa designation is not a ticket to government funding. As Terry Poe Buschkamp, a district specialist with the state program, explained, Main Street is “really just teaching a process.”

That involves four areas, and it’s easy to see how each relates to the Hilltop Campus Village.

• Design involves how the area looks, and includes projects such as those crosswalks, decorative streetlights, banners, and façade improvements.

• Organization is the Hilltop Campus Village structure itself. A strategic plan, Tunnicliff said, is expected to be approved at the board’s July meeting.

• Promotion can be seen in the two outdoor music festivals and the banners.

• Economic restructuring is making the area more friendly to business, which involves everything from inventorying available properties to slowing traffic on Brady and Harrison to encourage people to stop in the Hilltop.

Sometimes those areas overlap. For instance, the Hilltop Business Association is funding a program that rebates 50 percent of costs (with a maximum rebate of $5,000) for property improvements – a business incentive that bolsters the neighborhood’s appearance.

Frantz said that many people are surprised at the intensity of the Main Street process: “Much is going on behind the scenes.”

Getting More of a Look

The decline of the Hilltop area can be traced most directly to the conversion in the 1970s of Harrison and Brady streets from two-way to one-way traffic.

“The unintended consequence was to abandon this corridor for small business, and instead place the emphasis on transportation,” Tunnicliff said. “They in essence unintentionally created an Interstate corridor.”

He said that his vision for the Hilltop Campus Village involves having street parking on both sides of Harrison and Brady within five years, and restoring both streets to two-way traffic within a decade. “Traffic calms, pedestrians are more invited, the businesses along these corridors get more of a look,” he said. He called the current traffic flow and speed “barriers to investment” that need to be removed.

But he noted that while street parking and two-way streets are his ideal solution, they might prove to be challenging logistically and/or politically.

Frantz agreed, saying that he thinks there might be too much neighborhood opposition to return Brady and Harrison to two-way traffic. But he said on-street parking and the conversion of smaller one-ways – such as 14th and 15th streets – could accomplish a lot. “I support anything that’s calming,” he said, adding that smaller one-ways “don’t allow commercial revitalization to occur,” because they make it difficult to access businesses.

Matt Flynn, senior planning manager for the City of Davenport, wrote that Harrison and Brady street parking has been studied by the city and deemed appropriate, but it would still require city-council and Iowa Department of Transportation approval.

“Conversion to two-way [traffic on Brady and Harrison] will obviously need more study, as well as a significant financial commitment from the city,” he wrote. “This is unlikely to occur in the short term.” Two-way traffic on Harrison and Brady was part of the city’s 10-year transportation plan completed in 2010.

The Estate Sale Shop’s Wallace said she understands that such dramatic change requires patience, especially with Brady and Harrison being state highways. “Big change is very much like the Titanic – it takes a long time to turn,” she said.

If either street parking or two-way traffic doesn’t happen, Tunnicliff said, it’s still possible to slow down traffic to the benefit of Hilltop businesses and the safety of pedestrians. “I would say it would make it more difficult; I wouldn’t say it makes it impossible,” he said. “It may take longer. It may be less intense.”

Lower speed limits, more-aggressive speed-limit enforcement, and signage, he said, are all tools to slow vehicles. But he stressed that the “optimal” way to decrease speed on those streets is through parking and two-way traffic.

Wallace called altering the traffic flow is “crucial. ... It’s a racetrack. Two-way traffic would slow that down. ... They drive through the area now” instead of stopping.

Baby Steps

Traffic on Harrison and Brady is a visible, easily understandable issue to address. But something abstract might be an even larger challenge: perception.

When asked about obstacles, Tunnicliff said: “overcoming the perception that’s existed for a couple generations now, that investing in an area south of Locust is a risky venture.”

“When you take any urbanized area that has been neglected and try to renovate it, what you fight is what happened during the neglectful period,” Wallace said. “And that neglectful period was there, there’s no doubt about it.”

“It didn’t get to the point that is overnight,” Main Street Iowa’s Poe Buschkamp said. “It’s hard to understand that it’s an incremental, step-by-step, one-baby-step-at-a-time process where you improve one space, you attract one building, you attract one volunteer, you create one event at a time. As long as it took for an area to deteriorate, it sometimes takes quite a long time for it to improve, as well.”

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