ROCK FALLS – A brownfields site has been transformed into a riverfront park, and the city's next challenge in the RB&W District is to figure out how to best utilize the space.
Much of that responsibility has been shouldered by the Rock Falls Tourism Department, which appears up for the challenge. Several new events are scheduled for the first full year at Run, Bike & Walk District Park near the Holiday Inn Express & Suites – the first domino to drop in the area's redevelopment.
The events appeal to lovers of food, art, music, and people who just want to get together to enjoy the outdoors.
Food Truck Fridays will kick off at the park on May 4. There is room for at least 10 trucks, which will sell food from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. The vendors are scheduled to line up again at the same time on June 1 and July 6. Depending on the response, dates could be added.
"We'll probably just do three at first to see how it goes, and we'll keep adding if the demand is there," Rock Falls Tourism Director Janell Loos said.
Alcohol won't be sold, in deference to the Second Street businesses that are serving drinks to their lunch crowds, but live music is planned for the food truck patrons.
Loos still is looking to add vendors and musicians to the lineup, hoping to put together a diverse mix of both.
"We have trucks from here and outside the area, but we expect that most of them will be local," Loos said. "We don't want this to detract from local businesses, and we're hoping most of them will participate."
Another new event, Twin Cities Restaurant Week, keeps the focus on food from July 13 through July 22. A nationwide tourism concept, participating eateries plan all-star menus at reduced prices. If all goes according to plan, customers get a great deal and what restaurants lose in each bill, they more than make up in increased sales volume.
This collaborative event between tourism and businesses is also auditioning for repeat appearances.
"Visitors will get a taste of Restaurant Week in July, and we could possibly bring it back in January – a slow time of year for the businesses," Loos said.
For a $45 entry fee, restaurants are included in advertising for the event, which will reach outside the Sauk Valley. Patrons will have a chance to win prizes. They will be asked to fill out short surveys, and the restaurant with the highest rating wins $500.
Restaurant Week also has a philanthropic component – 30 percent of the sponsorship money will be donated to area food banks.
Switching gears to culture, the RB&W Art in the Park series will launch a Sculpture Tour on Sept. 8. Ten Chicago artists will be in town to put their works on display. If people like what they see, the sculptures will be sold – but not until the public has ample time to enjoy them.
"The artists will be here to talk about the sculptures and we'll have a wine-tasting event," Loos said. "People can buy the art at any time, but it must remain on display for 1 year."
Huge covered pedestals will protect the art and the area will be under heavy surveillance.
Next year, the Sculpture Tour should showcase some homegrown talent.
"I'm working with Woodlawn Arts Academy, and with their help, we hope to integrate more work from local artists," Loos said.
The Sunkissed Music Festival shifts the spotlight to a different art form. A total of 15 bands will take the stage over a 2-day period. The festival runs from 3 to 10 p.m. June 8 and from noon to 10 p.m. June 9. Tickets are $30 for both days.
August promises to be a busy month along the riverfront, with a mix of new and established events in the lineup.
During Rock Falls Days, Aug. 3-5, the park will host a craft show and the Puppy Pageant, a fundraiser for Happy Tails Humane Society.
The Big Cat Quest fishing tournament will return, but sadly, without its promoter and emcee. Ken Freeman, who organized the fishing events nationwide for corporate sponsor Bass Pro Shops, died earlier this year.
While Freeman's absence will put more of the responsibility on the city, Loos is confident everything will come together on Aug. 4 and 5, as she looks for more sponsors.
"We had always put up $10,000 for cash prizes, so the money isn't a problem, but Ken provided all of the fishing equipment from poles to tanks and scales," Loos said.
Local fishing guru Denny Hallgren will pick up the emcee duties and the local fishing community has pledged its support. A carp tournament for youth also will be held that weekend.
A bags tournament will make its debut at the park Sept. 1. It's hoped the event will become a Labor Day weekend staple.
The community quickly approached the tourism office about using the riverfront park, helping Loos to fill up the schedule.
"Janell has done a great job, but it helped that many of these things were brought to her," City Administrator Robbin Blackert said. "We built it and they came – we quickly realized that the need for the area was there."
The park is not a finished product. Work still needs to be done on the amphitheater, restrooms are coming, and there are big plans for trail expansion. The pace of economic development will dictate how quickly those upgrades take shape.
"We're on the pay as we go timeline," Blackert said. "The faster the south side is developed, the more we can do at the park."
The tourism department funds that come in through the hotel/motel tax puts the city in an enviable spot in a county with few hotels.
"Hotels are an important part of all of this," Loos said. "We budgeted for $180,000 in fiscal year 2018, but we'll bring in $201,000, and that's up from $165,000 in 2016."
Rock Falls generates 99.7 percent of Whiteside County's tax-generated tourism revenue.
RB&W PARK SCHEDULE
May 4 - Food Truck Fridays - 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
May 17-20 - St. Andrew School Carnival - 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday, 5 to 11 p.m. Friday, noon to 11 p.m. Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday
June 1 - Food Truck Fridays - 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
June 8-9 - Sunkissed Music Festival - 3 to 10 p.m. Friday, noon to 10 p.m. Saturday
June 16 - Taste of Rock Falls
June 22-23 - Summer Splash
June 23-24 - Rock Falls River Chase (Seward Park)
June 24 - Tri-Church Worship
July 6 - Food Truck Fridays - 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
July 13-22 - Twin Cities Restaurant Week
Aug. 3-5 - Rock Falls Days
Aug. 4 - Craft Show
Aug. 4-5 - Big Cat Quest Fishing Tournament
Aug. 4-5 - Youth Carp Fishing Tournament
Aug. 5 - Happy Tails Humane Society Puppy Pageant
Sept. 1 - Bags Tournament
Sept. 8 - Art in the Park Sculpture Tour
Sept. 22 - Taste of Fiesta
* Times have not been set for some of the events.