ROCK FALLS – Mayor David Blanton believes the city's riverwalk will be totally developed in 5 years.
"The low-hanging fruit is the walkway, and we will be able to walk up and down that thing this summer," Blanton said. "We're doing engineering on the rest of it ... that's a positive thing."
Within 10 years, Blanton said, he would like to see the construction of the outdoor amphitheater and public space completed.
Blanton, 65, is running for re-election against City Clerk Bill Wescott, 60. The two offered different opinions of what the city's priorities should be when it comes to downtown and riverfront development.
The mayor said the city's infrastructure will be key in securing future development in Rock Falls. He pointed to the completion of the city's new wastewater treatment plant as an example.
"The first thing you have to do is make sure you have the infrastructure to take care of what you're doing," Blanton said.
Wescott said he is a proponent of development along the Rock River, but it shouldn't come at the expense of the downtown.
"I think it would be a tremendous thing for us," Wescott said of riverfront development. "But I think at the same time, we need to look the other way. I think we need to look at developing a Main Street program."
Wescott said Sterling and Prophetstown already have successful Main Street programs.
Some may ask where the funding for such a program will come from, he said.
"We have a tourism faction of our city, which right now is sitting on close to $650,000 worth of monies," he said. "It's not all about putting heads on pillows, because there is components of the state statute that says that money can be used for infrastructure and economic development to enhance tourism in a city."
Wescott said some of that money could be used to work on the riverfront as well address the downtown.
He said he wants to focus on rejuvenating downtown Rock Falls by attracting more small businesses.
"If we just put all of our eggs in the basket for the riverfront alone, and we don't do something with that, I think we're going to be defeating the purpose," Wescott said.
Whiteside County Airport also presents a growth opportunity for Rock Falls, he said.
"It's a valuable resource, and we need to look into that and work with the board. I don't know that our city has ever had a meeting independently with the airport board to discuss that. It may have happened in the past, but in the 10 years I've been here, I don't believe that that's ever happened."
At a candidate forum Monday at City Hall, Blanton said people want "instant gratification" when it comes to economic development.
"It doesn't happen that way," he said, adding that, still, the development along the riverfront so far has happened far faster than some told him was possible.
The mayor also pointed out that the riverfront project has not driven the city into debt.
During the forum, Wescott said he has gotten the impression from some in the community that downtown businesses owners feel neglected.
He envisions turning a vacant downtown storefront into a business incubator that would help small business owners who can't afford their own storefronts because of the cost of utilities, rent and advertising, Wescott said.
"You subdivide a couple of those buildings and make it affordable to small businesses, retail outlets can get in there and see if they can make their business grow and expand," Wescott said.
More coverage ahead
This article is part of a series of stories looking at key issues and where the Rock Falls mayoral candidates stand on the issues.
Upcoming editions will examine how they view cooperation between Sterling and Rock Falls; how they propose attracting jobs and how they would meet the city's infrastructure needs.