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Feature Stories
Choosing Finance Over Farms: Scott County Chases Industry at the Expense of Agriculture PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Feature Stories
Written by Kathleen McCarthy   
Thursday, 14 April 2016 05:02

Orascom's Lee County facility

On April 7, three of the five Scott County Supervisors – Carol Earnhardt, Jim Hancock, and Tom Sunderbruch – approved a stunningly short-sighted change to the Scott County Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP) that allows for spot zoning anywhere in the county’s unincorporated areas. Supervisors Diane Holst and Brinson Kinzer respected the community-at-large’s wishes and voted against the change in the spirit of true representation.

The county’s current Agricultural Preservation Zoning District prevents spot zoning – developments that don’t conform to the surrounding land use – on any agriculture property outside city limits. But the three supervisors provided the necessary votes to begin the approval process for a new zoning designation called an Industrial Floating Zone (IFZ) to skirt that protection. April 7’s vote was the first of three readings over the next four weeks that will change the CLUP to allow the county and Quad Cities First – the economic-development arm of the Quad Cities Chamber – to market prime farmland for a “megasite” (1,000 acres or more) to potential industrial operators.

The Iowa Economic Development Authority established 17 regional marketing groups – including Quad Cities First – to help attract industrial development to Iowa, and it’s offering marketing grants of up to $50,000 per project. The fund expires in November, so the pressure is on to get the IFZ passed before that deadline. (See RCReader.com/y/ifz1.)

The Greater Davenport Redevelopment Corporation – a partnership of Scott County, the City of Davenport, the Quad Cities Chamber, and MidAmerican Energy – owns and operates the Eastern Iowa Industrial Park, but it’s running out of sites to market, and none is large enough to qualify as a megasite. Ergo the Industrial Floating Zone, which by circumventing current protections for prime farmland will open up the entire unincorporated county to potential industrial development.

And this is precisely what makes the Industrial Floating Zone so egregious. Most counties and municipalities allocate specific acres of property for site certification as a megasite. Certification criteria demand that qualifying properties have infrastructure already in place. With the IFZ, this is not the case. It’s all up for negotiation, and no surrounding properties are protected from the intrusion, leaving an entire rural community economically insecure going forward. And county residents can bank on their tax dollars paying for necessary infrastructure as part of the incentives used to entice an industrial operation here.

 
A Minor History with a Major Impact: Author Gary W. Moore Discusses His Father’s Story, April 12-15 PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 31 March 2016 05:40

The Sesser Egyptians circa 1940. Gene Moore is in the back row, fourth from the left.

Gary W. Moore had lots of dots to connect about his father’s life. The problem was that, for many years, Gene Moore refused to talk about them.

Gary W. MooreGary Moore will be participating in a handful of local events related to his 2006 book Playing with the Enemy as part of the Scott County Reads Together program April 12 through 15, and you can get a sense of the connections from the hardcover’s subtitle: A Baseball Prodigy, a World at War, & a Field of Broken Dreams.

Gene’s story itself is fantastic, but so is the tale of the book’s becoming – with a curious son and a reticent father, and with tantalizing bits of information finally put together into a narrative that’s both heartwarming and heartbreaking.

There was, for example, the January 1949 letter to Gene from the Pittsburgh Pirates minor-league baseball system, promising to “give you every chance and our ablest assistance in making a capable ball player.”

Gary Moore found the letter when he was 12, and it aligned with other things he’d heard.

He remembers visiting his father’s hometown of Sesser, Illinois, when he was seven or eight, and a man stuck his head out of the bar and asked if he was Gene’s kid. A group of older men pulled him into the bar and talked to him about his dad.

In a phone interview last week, Gary Moore recalled telling his father: “They said you were the greatest baseball player to ever play” in Sesser. He continued: “My dad kind of laughed and shrugged and he said, ‘This town has 700 people in it. If you’re the best baseball player in the town, that really doesn’t mean much.’”

When Moore was about 16, an older cousin was talking to him about baseball uniforms. “He said, ‘When your dad came home from his first season with the Dodgers, he gave me his jersey. I wore that damn thing until it just fell apart.’ I looked at him and I said, ‘My dad never played baseball for the Dodgers.’ And he said, ‘Go home and ask him.’ I went home and asked my dad and he just kind of shrugged and said, ‘Don’t pay attention to him.’”

Moore said that as he got older, he was increasingly unwilling to accept those dismissals. But his father was equally stubborn. As a teenager, Moore said, he demanded: “‘Tell me about that letter you got from the Pirates.’ And he said, ‘I told you never to ask me about that again.’ And that was it; he just shut down.”

That’s one set of dots. Gary Moore knew his father was a good baseball player who’d gotten a look from at least two major-league baseball organizations.

The other dots are smudgy. There was a visit to the Moore home by a German man in 1959 – when Gary Moore wasn’t yet five. “I don’t remember any details other than ... my sister and I hiding behind a chair and giggling,” he recalled. “I think I was laughing at his language; he talked different than anybody I’d ever heard before.”

 
Baby Steps for Rock Island County: The Organization Shows Wobbly but Promising Signs of Growth PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 03 March 2016 05:52

In a recent interview, Rock Island County Board Chair Ken “Moose” Maranda trotted out an old saying: “County government is only as good as the taxpayers want it to be.” He continued: “And that’s because of statute. Everything has to go to the public.”

Somewhat charmingly, Maranda actually says “statue” when he means “statute,” but his meaning is still clear: Because Rock Island County is not a home-rule government, it’s constricted by state law in ways many municipalities are not. So if it wants property-tax revenue beyond state caps, it has to get approval from voters via referendum.

Much less charmingly, the county-board chair appears to be laying the blame for the county’s financial situation at the feet of voters, who have in recent years defeated several ballot initiatives that would have resulted in increased property-tax burdens.

So the county’s budget situation has deteriorated from a $3-million surplus in Fiscal Year 2004 to a $3.2-million deficit in 2014, according to county audits. County facilities are in urgent need of repair, renovation, or replacement – with an estimated price tag of $15 million beyond a new courthouse.

But voters don’t bear blame here; they’re merely reacting rationally to what they see. It’s not that Rock Island County government is in dire financial straits because voters want it to be. Instead, citizens have been unwilling to reward an ineffective and dysfunctional county board by approving tax hikes.

I think Maranda knows this, and in our discussion last month he described himself as a bridge from the old way of doing things in Rock Island County to what is looking like the new way. “I hope that I was the right person to put in the chair to see that this transition that we’re going through keeps moving forward,” he said. “I hope somebody picks up ... where I leave off.”

Change was already happening before Maranda was elected county-board chair in December 2014. In August of that year, the board voted to hire an administrator – a move that coincided with efforts to push out Chair Phil Banaszek (who ended up retiring in September 2014).

But Maranda’s record on “this transition” is strong – if not likely popular.

 
Beginning with the End: The Hauberg Civic Center Has an Ideal Suitor, but the Rock Island City Council Should Take Its Time PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 04 February 2016 05:14

If the City of Rock Island is unwilling to devote the resources to operate and upgrade the Hauberg Civic Center, it’s hard to imagine a better owner than Bridges Catering.

Bridges – now based in Princeton, Iowa – is an established family company whose owners have deep roots in Rock Island. It plans to renovate and maintain the Hauberg mansion consistent with its historic character, expand public access, and use the site for both food preparation and events with fewer than 100 people. Shifting the mansion, its carriage house, and grounds into Bridges’ hands would add property and sales taxes to Rock Island’s coffers, and eliminate from the budget an event-rental facility (operated by the Parks & Recreation department) whose financial performance is in the red and getting worse.

In an interview last week, Bridges co-owner Bill Healy was as good a salesperson as one could hope for – promising to be a good steward and willing to contractually commit to his pledges.

“I don’t see as a Rock Island resident how this plan can be a bad thing,” he said. “We’re trying to bring a lot of jobs into Rock Island. We’re trying to bring a very, very big sales-tax base. We trying to put something on the property-tax roll. And we’re trying to take something that is not being used [much] at all and use it for the exact function” for which it’s intended.

Yet as the city council wrestles with whether to start the process of selling Hauberg, it has to understand that the land and buildings shouldn’t just be considered “surplus” property and handed to what the council deems the best bidder. Because of its significance as a historic property and the fact that it was given to the city, its future deserves a thorough discussion – of both the Bridges proposal and alternatives. The prospects for that still look dubious given the plan on the table, and it could go either way – a too-quick embrace of private ownership, or a knee-jerk rejection of it.

As a Rock Island resident and taxpayer, I’m excited about the possibility of Bridges Catering taking over the Hauberg Civic Center (located at 24th Street and 13th Avenue) – if the city would otherwise let it languish. But I desperately wish the timing and process were better, and I hope the city council takes time to evaluate all its options.

 
Bigger Than Baseball: Owner Dave Heller Helps the River Bandits Transcend Sport PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 06 August 2015 05:30

Dave Heller. Photo by Kevin Schafer (KRichardPhoto.com).

It goes without saying that Dave Heller is a baseball guy. He is, after all, the Quad Cities River Bandits’ managing partner, and he has an ownership stake in three other minor-league teams.

He talks about his first ownership experience – as a business partner with legendary players Don Mattingly (Heller calls him “Donnie”) and Cal Ripken Jr. And about road trips to see his baseball idol Tom Seaver when he pitched for the Mets and Red Sox.

When I inquired about his favorite River Bandits player, he quickly answered, “Carlos Correa, without question. ... Great work ethic, great natural ability, great with kids. He’ll be a special star. ... The idea of having an overall number-one pick like Carlos here is really exciting to us. Two years later, and he’s in the major leagues and tearing it up.”

Heller grew up in Baltimore, but he wasn’t an ardent Orioles fan. “I wasn’t passionate about the Birds the way other people were,” he said. “I really kind of just loved baseball writ large. I could watch a Cardinals-Cubs game and enjoy myself every bit as much as watching an Orioles-White Sox game.”

Yet the 53-year-old doesn’t run the River Bandits – or any other team he owns – like a sports enterprise. In an hour-long conversation last week, the game itself felt incidental. Heller said his model for the myriad improvements, additions, and promotions at Modern Woodmen Park during his tenure was “county fairs. ... I think the idea of bringing some of that county-fair atmosphere into a ballpark is really healthy and fun and productive.”

Treating the ballpark like an amusement park might rankle baseball purists, but it’s good business – particularly when one considers that minor-league owners manage the venue and not the team. The goal is to get people through the gates – and all the better if some of them only know ERA as an acronym for the Equal Rights Amendment.

 
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