Quad Cities Big Table: Marketing the Mississippi River, entire region as a destination

Brian Wellner | April 30th, 2019

Between the Mississippi River, a thriving music scene and plenty of big events and festivals, there is a lot to put the Quad Cities on the tourism map, if only someone could truly market the region’s potential.

About 100 people gathered for the April 26 Quad Cities Big Table focused on the region as a destination experience.

That’s the message that came out of the Quad Cities Big Table forum April 26 at one of the area’s newest night spots, The Rust Belt concert venue in East Moline. About 100 people attended the Quad Cities Chamber and Q2030 Regional Action plan event and participated in small-group discussions about how to market the Quad Cities as a destination location.

More than one group concluded the Mississippi River, one of the longest river systems in the world, is greatly underutilized as a source of recreation in the Quad Cities.

“We take the river for granted,” Nicki Brus, sales manager for Visit Quad Cities, said, suggesting the need for more restaurants on or by the river as others suggested hot dog and ice cream stands.

Ideas generated from small-group discussions ranged from connecting all of the Quad Cities via a more complete bicycle path system to improving communication about what’s going on every weekend.

Bobby Ray Bunch, a stand-up comedian based in the Quad Cities, and his wife, Jacquelyn O’Briant Bunch, present their group’s takeaways at the Big Table forum.

“In the summer there is probably something to do every night but definitely every weekend,” said Andrew Lehman, assistant tournament director of the John Deere Classic.

The Quad Cities could take better advantage of its proximity to Chicago. Bobby Ray Bunch, a locally based stand-up comedian, said that like Chicago, the Quad Cities also has a rich jazz and blues history and vibrant musical scene.

“People tell me, ‘You have no idea how lucky you are to have this music scene,’” Bunch said. “There is a blues and jazz presence but not a lot of places to watch blues and jazz.”

To appeal to millennials, DeAnna Freeman-Foster, special events coordinator for the Quad Cities River Bandits, suggested advertising famous local places, like the Ferris wheel at Modern Woodmen Park, as great locations to take selfies. She also suggested better utilizing the Quad City International Airport to advertise local events and entertainment spots to visitors.

“There are a ton of events happening on a weekly basis,” Freeman-Foster said. “Once you get the word out, hopefully you’ll encourage more to want to live here.”

DeAnna Freeman-Foster, special events coordinator for the Quad Cities River Bandits, listens to others in her group during the Big Table.

While unifying the Quad Cities around a common theme was discussed among the groups, at least one participant urged others not to ignore the region’s smaller communities.

“Let’s take advantage of our differences,” said Emily Gwin, store manager for Antique Archaeology in LeClaire. “LeClaire is not like Davenport.”

Gwin said that quality of life goes a long way to attracting tourism. “If residents are happy and moving here, tourists will follow,” she said.

The Quad Cities offers more bang for your buck compared to larger cities like Chicago. Jay Pearce, general manager of WVIK, the Quad Cities NPR station, said for what it would cost to overnight in Chicago, you could dine, take in a show and stay in a hotel in the Quad Cities.

“We have a lot here to offer people,” Pearce said, suggesting package deals for weekend getaways and other promotions.

Besides appealing to outsiders, Pearce said more could be done to advertise Quad Cities happenings to residents wholive here.

“We should not just market to people outside but market to ourselves,” he said.

At the 2019 Big Table, Kevin Maynard, CEO of Quad City Arts, committed to “driving tourism and local engagement through the arts” to transform the region.

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