What will Quincy’s future look like? City leaders, consultants and residents are searching for the answer.
There’s been a lot of talk over the last year about a $100 million long-term plan to reshape parts of the Gem City over the next 10 to 20 years.
Quincy’s Plan Commission could decide in February whether to recommend a final version of "Quincy Next Strategic Plan." Then, city council may vote on it in March.
The plan includes 10 initiatives and addresses everything from workforce development and job creation to riverfront development, building a Greenways system and downtown revitalization. The latter turned into a conversation over coffee at Electric Fountain Brewing Company, a coffee shop that opened in downtown Quincy in May 2017.
"There’s lots of people on board trying to make downtown an awesome place, which it is," owner Ryan Christian said. "But I think it needs more businesses, more younger people coming in, trying to do some things to make some excitement down here."
Widening downtown sidewalks and making streetscapes more pedestrian friendly are part of the strategic plan, which some feel is desperately needed.
"Quincy hasn’t grown in 70 years," Maggie Strong said. "We’ve been about 40,000 people (in Quincy). That’s not gonna work. The status quo isn’t going to work any longer."
Strong is the local facilitator for the strategic plan. She said in an online survey, the community told consultants the city hired that they want to see changes downtown and on the riverfront.
Rick Smith, a former Quincy alderman who’s now on the city’s plan commission, agrees those areas have unmet potential. He supports the strategic plan, but also believes it doesn’t focus enough on the city’s growing east end where an interstate, open land and retail businesses intersect.
"Your heart will always take you to downtown Quincy, to the riverfront, to the historic aspects of the community," Smith said. "But your head should take you to the growth because that’s where you get the money to fix up the old things."
Strong said the east side will not be forgotten in this process.
"We are including strategic initiatives for those areas," Strong responded. "When you look at a bike and pedestrian pathway – that’s an entire community area that we want to focus on, not just our downtown."
The consultants the city hired to help create the plan, Development Strategies, out of St. Louis, said Quincy should look at what other cities are doing. They point to another Tri-State river town – Dubuque, Iowa – where Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa meet. .
"Dubuque sort of rose to the top because of a number of metrics, including, Dubuque is similarly sized to Quincy," Brian Licari with Development Strategies said. "But really what jumped out was job growth in Dubuque has actually exceeded the national average for job growth. That is somewhat unique because there are not a lot of small towns or small cities the size of Dubuque or Quincy that are growing at that rate. Most job growth is occurring in larger, metro areas."
But long before Dubuque was an award-winning rust belt success story, it hit an unprecedented low point during the farm crisis in the early 80s.
"We had the highest unemployment rate in the country at 24 percent," City Manager Mike Van Milligan said.
"And the tag line was ‘last one out of Dubuque turn out the lights’," echoed Rick Dickinson, President of Greater Dubuque Development Corporation.
People left in droves and Dickinson said the riverfront was filled with piles of junk.
"Mountains of sawdust, dilapidated buildings, abandoned bulk tanks. It was an eyesore," he said.
But by the early 90s the city transformed itself by electing new officials who hired new talent. Collaboration led to a long-term reinvestment plan and by the 2000s, with help from a $40 million Iowa grant, residents started to see big changes, including on their riverfront.
Today, there’s a Mississippi riverwalk, casino, the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium and a Grand River convention center, just to name a few.
Dubuque has poured well over $400 million in investments just into its riverfront in a 12-year timeframe. That’s more than four times the proposed cost of the Quincy Strategic Plan. But it paid off.
"IT has come to Dubuque in a big way with IBM coming here in 2009," Dickinson said.
IBM is one component in a more diverse economy.
"We went from about 37,000 people at the low point in 1984 to today, there’s over 60,000 people working in the metropolitan statistical area of Dubuque," Dickinson said.
So how did Dubuque pay for investments over 30 years?
"It was about planning, partnerships and people," Van Milligan said.
"The short answer," added Dickinson, "is it’s a combination of public and private funds. The public funds came in first, provided the initiative and the private sector came in a big way afterwards."
Dubuque also took on debt. Taxes played a role too. But city leaders say a lot of money has been paid back.
For Maggie Strong, it’s inspiration for Quincy.
"Yes it’s a lot of money," Strong said. "Yes, it’s a big investment but it doesn’t have to happen overnight. And Quincy is one of a kind and has some amazing assets. We don’t need to be like anyone else but need to be a better version of ourselves."
To help pay for the strategic plan, there’s been talk of a sales tax dedicated to downtown and riverfront development in Quincy. A food and beverage tax has been discussed too, along with adjusting how money from the hotel-motel tax gets distributed. Strong stressed that some of those details may change as the plan moves forward.
"And some of it we hope will come from private investment," Strong said. "We’re not just talking about public dollars going into these activities and these strategies."
Below are details of the new strategic plan: