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Tourism on to next phase in Rock Falls

Free library program first project on list

ROCK FALLS – Tim Wilson, who has headed up Rock Falls Tourism for less than a year, is finishing what others started while also striving to leave his own mark.

After closing the books on the years-long first phase of a three-part tourism initiative, Wilson is kicking off Phase 2 with a list of projects he recently presented to the City Council.

The crown jewel of Phase 1 was establishing a 5-year financial reserve to protect the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization against unforeseen events. Formerly known as the Rock Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau, the tourism office was born of a 1991 ordinance that set up a tax on city hotel guests. That tax money funds the organization.

Given there are only five hotels in the city, events such as natural disasters or fires could have a significant impact on finances of the tourism office.

The other major goal of the first phase was marketing. That goal was achieved largely through what is known as drip marketing, in which a similar message is sent repeatedly over a longer time, oftentimes via email or social media.

“We did some newspaper, radio and magazine advertising,” Wilson said. “It was mainly little things to get the name out within 50 miles of the city limits.”

As his agency moves on to the second phase, Wilson says his philosophy will be a little different. He plans to back off the marketing and move more in the direction of community relations.

The next phase is all about infrastructure and quality-of-life changes, Wilson says. He looks to Dixon as a measuring stick of sorts, realizing that Rock Falls has some catching up to do.

“Dixon has its infrastructure in place, and now they are bringing in some bigger attractions,” he said. “We’re an old industrial town, so we’re a little behind them in Phase 2.”

The door will be opened to events such as the 2012 Mumford & Sons concert in Dixon after issues such as infrastructure, streetscape and logistics upgrades are made, Wilson said.

“We’ve got to clean up before the party,” Wilson said. “Then we can move on to special events and marketing what we have.”

Kicking off the second-phase projects will be installation of a free library program. Kiosks will be set up at several high-traffic sites yet to be determined. The public library will help to administer the program, which operates on a “take one, return one” honor system.

“It will probably look like a mailbox, and people can just take a book out and put one back,” head librarian Amy Lego said.

The library will supply books for the program. People continually donate books to the library. The newer ones are kept, while others are sold on designated shelves at the library.

“I think it’ll be really interesting,” Lego said. “I’ve seen the free libraries in magazines, and it looks cool.”

Other projects in this phase include the addition of an information kiosk at the Arduini Boat Launch, with help from the Coloma Township Park District. An ADA-compliant floating dock system will be built along the city’s side of the Hennepin Canal. A streetscape project is planned in the area along First Avenue and Second Street. Benches, bike racks and trash containers will be replaced, and new banners, artwork and landscaping will be introduced.

City government and the Rock Falls Chamber of Commerce will be involved in the streetscaping efforts.

In the works

Here are the first projects planned in the second phase of the Rock Falls Tourism initiative:

- Free library kiosk program

- Information kiosk at Arduini Boat Launch

- New floating dock system for canoes and kayaks along canal

- Downtown streetscape upgrades

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