Rock Island alderman questions city investments


ROCK ISLAND, Ill. (KWQC) – Two of Rock Island’s biggest retail development projects are stuck. The city lost its court case to condemn part of the Big Island levee. It wanted to build a road leading to a planned shopping center across the interstate from Jumer’s casino.

Its efforts to attract Wal-Mart are now waiting for a decision in August even though city officials said Wal-Mart would be open in 2013.

The city has spent millions to invest in these projects and now appears to have very little to show for it.

The Jumer’s Crossing project cost $1,000,000 up front for the city to buy the land. Then, its attorney fees for the court case over the levee have totalled $141,000. Now the judge ordered the city to pay the attorney’s fees for Big Island, Milan, and others who challenged its levee plan. $173,000 there.

For the Wal-Mart project, it charged $15 million on a bank line of credit to move businesses and demo Watchtower Plaza. The city is now borrowing $15.8 million dollars to pay that money back.

All told Rock Island has sunk roughly $17 million into these projects. Each resident now owes $438 apiece.

An empty lot and an empty field. This is what Rock Island has spent tax dollars on.  New 6th ward Alderman Josh Schipp says the city made some mistakes.

“The plan from the very beginning was a poor plan,” says Schipp.

Schipp believes the city’s land investment can be salvaged. Perhaps by having neighborhoods developed where cornfields are now. However, he calls the legal strategy foolish.

“It was based on a fool’s dream that we could somehow overturn court precedent regarding this case,” says Schipp.

He’s also frustrated with the Watchtower Plaza redevelopment. He says the city needed to invest in the area, but he says it promised a Wal-Mart it can’t deliver.

“The bill of goods that was sold to the public in November of 2012, when this went through the council at this time, was that Super Wal-Mart was coming,” says Schipp.

Rock Island Mayor Dennis Pauley did not have time to sit down for an interview Wednesday. We left a message for city manager Thomas Thomas asking for an interview. It was not returned.

“There is no one who can give me a straight answer as to what justification to run away with such a strong unambiguous narrative,” says Schipp.

He says he wants to see these investments succeed. The city hired a retail marketing firm recently. Schipp says that’s a good decision, but he’s concerned the city wasn’t straight with its taxpayers. Taxpayers who now owe a lot of money with very little to show.

Rock Island’s legal fees will continue to increase. The city has not processed the latest bills from its legal team.

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