STATE OF THE CITY: Quincy growing, eyeing even brighter future

By  Herald-Whig

Posted: Feb. 16, 2018 12:25 pm Updated: Feb. 16, 2018 12:29 pm
 

QUINCY — Big things are happening in Quincy, with more than $109 million in private sector construction projects, and there could be bigger things ahead, Mayor Kyle Moore told members of the Exchange Club Friday.

During his fifth annual state of the city speech, Moore told how businesses and organizations are moving forward.

“Take a look around Illinois and you will find few other cities with so many new projects coming online,” Moore said.

Quincy had more than $109 million in construction projects during 2017. That did not include the $89 million being spent by Quincy Public Schools, he said.

“We are experiencing an unprecedented level of investment in Quincy,” Moore said.

He cited a $40 million feed facility at ADM Nutrition, $25 million in technology and capital improvements at GatesAir, and construction of a new facility at Knapheide Manufacturing that will spark the addition of 240 jobs. In addition, Kohl Wholesale has built a new 137,000-square-foot warehouse and Quincy Medical Group celebrating its 80th year has reached 1,000 employees.

Adams Fiber has invested $22 million in fiber-optic infrastructure during the past three years. And within a few more years, the communications company should give every home “access to internet speeds that are 100 times as fast as traditional service,” Moore said.

Impressive investments within the public sector also were cited by Moore.

Quincy Public Schools is on track to have all new elementary schools in place by the start of the 2019 school year.

Adams County built a new ambulance building at 29th and Chestnut last year. Plans call for construction of a $34 million law enforcement facility and jail starting this fall, Moore said.

The Quincy Park District completed a $1.5 million section of the Bill Klingner Trail between Fifth and 12th streets. Another section of the hiking and biking trail is expected this year between 18th and 24th streets.

The District, formerly known as the Historic Quincy Business District, “welcomed 15 new businesses and saw 10 businesses expand,” Moore said.

A market-rate apartment program also is underway. By the end of the year, 15 upgraded apartments will help boost residential development downtown. Properties that were valued at $408,000 when the rental rehab program began, will have an estimated value of $1.1 million.

SkyWest Airlines has been serving Quincy Regional Airport since December, providing daily flights on 50-passenger jets to O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.

Moore said Quincy Fire Department and Police Department response times have improved in the past year.

After listing the progress of the past year, Moore said the city has a chance to see even greater growth if action items in the Quincy Next Plan are pursued. The strategic plan effort, that included input from 180 community and business leaders, will be unveiled soon. Moore said it has 99 recommendations in the plan that would transform the city and spark even greater growth.

“Our children and their children will look back at this moment in time and thank us,” Moore said.

Some of the recommendations from the Quincy Next Plan include: Raising additional money for training skilled workers for in-demand jobs, investing in tourism, making the community more attractive to start-up businesses and developing the riverfront — perhaps through a partnership between the city and the Quincy Park District to build a dock for recreational boaters and larger passenger ships.

Moore said a sales tax rebate program also could help retailers citywide to improve their properties. He would like to see the central business district area near the Oakley-Lindsay Center promoted as a hospitality district, using natural growth in hotel-motel tax collections to generate the funds for additional work.

“Our city is in the middle of a period of unprecedented investment, collaboration and innovation. We must not let this be the peak of our success,” Moore said.

The mayor’s prepared remarks

Fellow Exhangites and honored guests, it is an honor to stand before you today in my fifth year of service as mayor of this great city. I am so privileged and blessed to be a small part of the much larger story that is Quincy, Illinois.

In 2013 Rasmenia Massoud wrote a collection of stories in a book called “Broken Abroad.” The book tells the story of nine different Americans who travel abroad in search for themselves and the meaning of home. In the book she states, “A city isn’t so unlike a person. They both have the marks to show they have many stories to tell. They see many faces. They tear things down and make new again.”

Ladies and gentlemen, Quincy, is a city with a history of trials and tribulations, stories of individual and community successes, and today, we are a city that is making ourselves new again.

Since our founding, a strong entrepreneurial spirit has been the heartbeat of our city. Today Quincy’s employers are leading the state in innovation and investments. Take a look around Illinois and you will see few other cities with so many new projects coming online.

This fall, ADM will finish their $40 million state-of-the-art feed facility that centralizes Quincy production lines, expands warehouse space and enhances their capability to serve increased demand for ADM’s products. Knapheide Manufacturing will soon open their new state of the art facility, increasing their employment base by 240 jobs in a two year period. Gates Air recently invested $25 million in technology and capital.

This past year, companies like Kohl Wholesale and Quincy Medical Group celebrated historic milestones. Kohl Wholesale developed a 40 acre site into a new 137,000 square foot distribution warehouse. Quincy Medical Group, operating since 1937, reached 1,000 employees.

Thanks to the vision of Adams Fiber, Quincy continues to be leading the region in access to next generation fiber-optic infrastructure. In 2014, Adams Fiber announced their plans for city-wide access to a fiber-optic infrastructure system capable of gigabit speeds delivered to the home. Since then, over $22 million has been invested in Quincy alone and in a few short years, every home in Quincy will have access to internet speeds that are 100 times as fast as traditional service.

We are experiencing unprecedented level of investment in Quincy. In fact in 2017, over $109 million worth of construction projects were permitted in our city, the largest dollar amount invested in over a decade. That value does not include the $89 million invested in our new public schools.

We are fortunate in Quincy to have industry leaders willing to invest in our city, and we’re also lucky to have so many public sector partners working hand in hand with those leaders to make Quincy new again. Our partners in Adams County continued their commitment to a long-range investment philosophy to modernize their operations. In July, the Adams County Ambulance Service moved from their home of 42 years at 16th and Broadway, to a new state of the art facility at 29th and Chestnut. This fall site work and construction started on the new $34 million law enforcement facility that will be home to our new jail and include new office space for the Sherif’s department and QPD.

This year the Quincy Park District made significant investments in our city’s trail ways. This summer, they completed a $1.5 million project building out the largest section of the Bill Klinger Trail between 12th and fifth. In the fall, they announced funding for the next phase, between 18th and 24th street had been awarded. The partnership between the Park District, the State of Illinois and the Friends of Trail equates to a $2.4 million investment that could be completed by the fall.

The District welcomed 15 new businesses and saw 10 businesses expand. The Downtown Rental Rehab Program, has brought new life to residential living in our downtown. By the end of this year, 15 market rate apartments will be online thanks to the program, increasing property values from a total of $408,000 when the program began, to an estimated value of $1.1 million when all the projects are finished.

The Cullinan Kickstart program was launched at the Quincy Mall. The program has helped the owners of Sidel’s Bakery open up shop this fall, and thanks to the program, later in the year Que Town Barbeque will open in the former Krieger’s space. These new businesses are great additions to the mall and surrounding properties which also welcomed Slumberland Furniture and IHOP this year. While the retail environment is ever changing and challenging, Quincy continues to be a destination for the tristate region.

These public and private partnerships provide examples of organizations that have looked within themselves, focused on their core strengths and embraced change to stay competitive. Make no mistake, providing cost-effective city services that have value to our residents, while implementing strategies to help our city grow, has never been more difficult. Yet, your city government is doing just that.

This summer, Quincy Regional Airport was given the opportunity to look at the future of airline travel in the region. Five companies submitted bids to provide air service out of Quincy, with destination options that included St. Louis, Chicago, Minneapolis, Kansas City and Nashville. In the end, the Aeronautics Committee recommended a new service, Skywest, which is now proving non-stop connections to Chicago O’Hare, the 4th largest airport in the world. This new jet service expands flight options for our passengers, allows companies a more viable otpion who could not fly our previous air carrier due to insurance reasons and gives the city a partnership which could expand air service to other larger airports if demand allows. Daily flights to Chicago began in December, and Skywest has been very pleased with the growing number of passengers who have flown and booked tickets.

Our team of directors continues to strive to enhance the services we provide for our residents while providing a working environment that attracts the best workforce in government. City employees continue to be healthier and happier in the workplace. In 2017, the city experienced a 27% decrease in absenteeism and employee satisfaction rose by 3%, scoring the second highest rating in five years.

Our sidewalk repair team continues to improve their performance. Today, it takes them half a number of days from when a sidewalk repair request is turned in until the job is completed than it did in 2014. Last quarter, our Quincy Fire Department responded to a scene within five minutes and twenty seconds, 94% of the time, the highest in four years. In 2017 the Quincy Police Department improved their response times to high emergency calls by 29 seconds. Our planning and development department strives to provide hassle-free customer service to our developers and contractors. Five years ago it took an average of 63 days for a project to come from a concept to a reality, today it takes only 28 days, the best turnaround time we’ve recorded.

In 2012, the city relied on close to $140,000 in outside legal counsel, by taking on more work in-house our legal time has reduced that annual cost to around $20,000 per year. Last year our Quincy Transit Lines saw a record number of passengers and implemented advertising on our city busses, raising $48,000 in revenue to help offset rising costs.

Our employees work hard night and day to provide you with clean drinking water, with safe roads, protection from disaster and a city that you are proud to call home. But, these services that we’ve come to know so well, cannot be maintained within our current revenue portfolio. The state budget adopted by Springfield this summer had a devastating effect on our revenues. The budget agreement reduced the city’s share of personal property tax by 22%, or over $600,000 per year. It reduced our share of the state income tax by $200,000 per year and imposed a 2% “administrative fee” on our home rule sales tax, costing the city $200,000. All together, that is $1 million taken out of Quincy’s budget, to pay for Springfield’s inability to get their financial house in order.

We must face the hard truth that relying on revenue from Springfield and sales tax from an ever changing retail environment will only hinder our ability to project out future revenues, forecast expenses and invest in the critical services and infrastructure needed to maintain our residents quality of life. This month the city council will be discussing a variety of options that include diversifying our revenues or reducing city services. It will be tempting for those to politicize these tough decisions, to place blame on your local leaders for the solutions that are enacted, but in order to maintain our core services we must tear apart our old playbook and come together on a new plan that recognizes the economic realities of today and paints a better vision for the future.

In his book “Visioneering,” Pastor Andrew Stanley writes about the importance of a compelling vision. The book is geared towards people and corporations but make no mistake, the principles in “Visioneering” can be applied throughout Quincy. He states, “A clear vision along with the courage to follow through dramatically increases anyone’s chances of success.” The desire for a common, compelling vision in our community was the impetus for Quincy Next, our new strategic plan that will be voted on by the City Council in March.

This effort, led by former Mayors Dave Nuessen and Chuck Scholz, brings together the hopes, dreams and vision for our community that were communicated to us by over 180 community members. The strategic plan asked the question, “What do we want Quincy to look like in the future?” and provides us the road map to get there.

What is that vision? It is a Quincy filled with a skilled and employed workforce that meets the needs of this generation’s employers and the next. It’s a Quincy that grows on the strength of our manufacturing, healthcare and agricultural base, and allows for new sectors like technology and research and development to grow and thrive in our community. It is a Quincy that removes red tape, incentives and encourages big thinkers, innovation and welcomes those who are wanting to start a business of their own. It is a Quincy where our historic neighborhoods are still the gem of our city. It is a Quincy that attracts people from out of town with unique tourism and retail options. A Quincy that is easy to navigate for visitors, that leads people to a places in our city that invites you to stay a little longer, spend more time in our community with your friends and neighbors and gives you unique and distinct neighborhoods in our city that provides an eclectic experience just a few blocks from your home. It is a healthier and happier Quincy thanks to trail ways that span across our city, providing bicyclists, pedestrians and outdoor enthusiasts with trails that are scenic and encourage a more active lifestyle. Lastly, it is a city that builds anew on the very cornerstone of our founding…the riverfront. We can have a riverfront that is friendly to recreational boaters, becomes a cultural and entertainment destination for the region and provides a competitive advantage to our industries with a state of the art multi-modal port.

Putting my cynic’s hat on, I know these aspirations can seem “pie-in-sky,” and I too often roll my eyes when people talk of another “long-range plan,” because , quite frankly I am skeptical of how much of any long-range plan actually will get accomplished. So let me give you one simple thing we could do to help accomplish each key initiative.

First, train a skilled workforce: We already have training programs at John Wood Community College and Quincy University that are formed with the input of our employers. However, we must also make it financially attractive to stay in Quincy and explore these fields of study. We can do that by raising additional dollars for programs like the Quincy Promise or the QU Scholarship Trust. If any of one of our service clubs identified local college scholarships opportunities as their next endeavor, and raised $25,000, they could fund more than 20 students enrolled at John Wood Community college for one year in the Quincy Promise Program. We can grow a diversified economy by placing larger investments in industries like tourism. If cities like Alton, Grafton, and Burlington can all focus on bringing in more tourism dollars, we can do it too.

Third, we can foster start-ups and innovation by using seed money from our local economic development loan fund to help turn the first floor of the city’s 706 Maine property into a tech hub. This hub would offer programmers, developers, and other entrepreneurs a place to work in an open, trendy work environment, with the amenities of a conference room and private offices on premise. We can help get these businesses off the ground by starting a privately funded micro-grant opportunity for tech start-ups who wish to call Quincy home. The Arch-grant program in St. Louis can be used as a model, it awards equity-free funding of $50,000 for companies who want to startup in St. Louis. Since 2012, the program has funded 96 companies which have created over 370 jobs.

Fourth, we can encourage in-fill housing by starting a revolving loan program for our river neighborhoods similar to the Central Business District Revolving Loan Fund. City leaders have already met with area banks, and we will be unveiling a Neighborhood Housing Reinvesting Program in the upcoming months. The program will connect bank certified pre-qualified home buyers with a below market rate loan to make additional improvements on the property and also incentivize public safety officials to call these neighborhoods come.

Planning for the future of retail could mean adopting a program city-wide similar to the agreement enacted for the mall. The concept is simple, if there a chronically vacant storefront, the city offers a sales tax rebate based on the amount of improvements made to the property and only based on the sales tax generated at that particular site. This could give storeowners more capital to create an environment where people want to stay and shop. The program would cost the city little since those storefronts had not been generating sales tax dollars for years.

Placemaking, enhancing access and connections go hand in hand. It is the ideas that there are concrete things we can do to make our community more welcoming and more navigable. We can adopt a city-wide wayfinding program which could direct people from the entrances of our town to the core of our community. We could work with neighborhoods on distinct branding and designs to help accentuate their unique attributes. (Think of the brewery district off of State street)

The Oakley Lindsey Center welcomes in thousands of visitors and hundreds of events each year. We can use that as the cornerstone for a hospitality district that encourages people to stay in the surrounding hotels, walk around the civic center and explore the downtown and the riverfront. To do that, we need to make the area more inviting. How do we fund improvements? Last year alone saw a $40,000 increase in hotel-motel tax collections. By simply investing the natural growth in our hotel-motel receipts to fund projects around the center.

Developing the riverfront has been talked about for decades, and is one catalyst project away from making it the center of our recreational and cultural experiences. For around $5 million, the City of Quincy and the Park District can work together to build a boat dock off of front and Hampshire that would accommodate recreational boaters and larger passenger ships. This could directly lead to an increase in tourism dollars, which helps accomplish a diversified economy. Where could we find the money for such a project? The city has over $500,000 per year coming off our bond debt in just a few short years and could partner with the Park District for a combined project.

Lastly, building a greenways system is the largest undertaking, but can have the most positive long-term effect on our community. After the strategic plan is adopted, groups like the Friends of the Trails can partner with our local health care community to refurbish our greenways plan, break it down into smaller, bite size projects and help pass a funding initiative approved by the voters.

These ten strategies are just a small part of the Quincy Next Plan. In fact, if we have the courage to follow through with even half of the 99 recommendations provided to us in the Quincy Next Plan, the opportunities for growth and innovation will know no bounds within our city limits. Our children and their children will look back at this moment in time and thank us for having the courage to look within ourselves, to ask hard questions, and to make changes that maybe felt a little uncomfortable at the time, but were necessary to spark a period of growth that had not been seen in our city for decades.

Ladies and gentlemen our city is in the middle of a period of unprecedented investment, collaboration and innovation; we must not let this be the peak of our success. By working together and investing in ourselves, we can continue to build a better Quincy, one that honors our past and shines the light of prosperity for generations to follow.