September 22, 2005

Dan Carmody, Godfather of Rock Island development, founder of RibCo, to resign


Looking for new challenges, Development Association of Rock Island executive director Dan Carmody has resigned.

Mr. Carmody announced his departure at DARI's board meeting Wednesday. He is leaving after 18 years to become the executive director of the Fort Wayne, Ind., improvement District. He'll start that job Nov. 15.

"Eighteen years is a long time in one place," he said. "For the community and myself, getting some new ideas is a good thing."

A native of Oak Park, Ill., Mr. Carmody moved to Rock Island in 1977 after graduating from the University of Illinois with a degree in urban and regional planning. He also studied urban planning in England.

He has served as DARI's executive director since 1987. He also has worked for Rock Island as a city planner and owned the Rock Island Brewing Company.

While on vacation this summer, he said he considered future plans and decided he needed new challenges. He also sees his departure as an opportunity for DARI. He is pleased and proud of the staff and says assembling it is one of his best accomplishments. He believes the staff will continue to flourish.

"I think it is a chance to give staff a real opportunity to grow," he said. "I expect a national search to bring in someone with fresh thinking."

Mike Thoms, DARI's president, echoed those sentiments.

"We have to, as a community, look at the positive side" of Mr. Carmody leaving, he said. For the city, the change in leadership will be an opportunity to "maybe try something different," he said.

DARI will put together a six- to eight-person committee to discuss the search for Mr. Carmody's replacement.

"We're sorry to see him go," Mr. Thoms said, adding Mr. Carmody "has put his heart and soul into the city."

Mr. Carmody counts a number of successes in his tenure at DARI.

He thinks the partnership between the city and private sector has increased, saying it "wasn't very good in 1987."

The improvements in downtown, with new housing options and the creation of The Arts and Entertainment District is another improvement.

"The downtown has come a long way," he said. "It is a brighter place."
Dan Carmody was almost single-handedly responsible for Rock Island leading the way with it's downtown development and evolution into a thriving arts and entertainment district.

Prior to that, he not only owned the Rock Island Brewing Company, as the article states, but he owned and developed what turned out to be a string of Brewing Companies. Carmody bought a dilapidated building in a crumbling part of town, completely renovated it using largely salvaged material, got the business started, and continually improved it, eventually expanding into the building next door.

RibCo was always known for the great music it played on it's stereo, as well as the top-notch live bands it booked into the area.

After starting and managing RibCo into a very successful bar, where he was known as "Mr. Fun", or "The Steel Mustache" and was known to grab albums off the turntable when they got boring and fling them across the bar, shattering them against the wall, or, on one occasion, ran through the bar shooting off a fire extinguisher for no apparent reason, Carmody then used the same successful formula to buy and renovate older buildings in Clinton, Galesburg, Muscatine, and Iowa City, and created Brewing Company clubs in those locations before eventually selling the chain piece by piece.

He was also instrumental in creating the mall areas in front of RibCo and initiating the outdoor concerts which have become a staple of summer entertainment.

All one needs to do to appreciate all that Carmody accomplished for Rock Island is simply contrast it to other cities, notably Moline. While Moline's development was dominated by the narrow interests of Deere and a handful of wealthy property owners and investors, Rock Island opted for targeting a younger demographic and instituted programs which in addition to attracting clubs and bars, encouraged art galleries and other creative businesses. He also began another key component of the mix, developing attractive condos and other housing to attract younger and more affluent residents to the downtown area to ensure the vitality of the district.

Carmody along with Bob Yap and others created quasi-governmental entities to help buy and renovate the gems of Victorian architecture in the Broadway district and other neighborhoods, both saving the unique and beautiful homes and turning the neighborhood around.

Moline, during the same period, looked on mystified at Rock Island's successes, unable to think out of a conservative and profit motivated box. As a result, downtown Moline is uninspiring and composed of Deere projects holding little appeal to city residents as they're essentially a "Deereland" tourist trap for their clients. Then the ugly blight of the Deere office building was plopped down smack in the middle of the downtown, and a handful of other upscale boutiques and businesses skewed primarily to older and wealthy clientele have been created.

After "development" groups composed of real estate speculators and other short-sighted and greedy individuals directed the spending of city funds almost exclusively for tearing down blocks of old, historic buildings in hopes of building new and cashing in, Moline finally woke up too late to realize that renovating old buildings is both desirable and profitable. But by then, they'd torn nearly all of them down, resulting in an architectural mish-mash of older buildings, hideously bland and jarring newer buildings, other buildings from a variety of decades, and parking garages in downtown.

There's been an unending string of bar/restaurants opening and closing downtown, without only one managing to remain in business for any length of time. (In fairness, R.I. also has had many downtown businesses come and go.)

Perhaps most galling to Moline leaders who scratched their heads wondering how Carmody did it is the fact that Moline has had enormously more money available for their downtown development than Rock Island ever has, yet looks pitiful by comparison.

Dan Carmody has truly been a positive and creative force in Rock Island. Perhaps his strongest trait has been his willingness to try things. They didn't all work. And some were rather obvious failures, but he was willing to give it a shot. And Carmody was relentless, and despite the daunting goal of bringing downtown Rock Island back to life, and the many setbacks encountered along the way, he doggedly kept at it, constantly innovating, proposing, learning, searching for ideas from as far away as Europe, and making things happen.

Carmody's moving on will be a loss to the area, and Rock Island certainly has it's work cut out in finding someone as determined and creative as Dan Carmody.

4 Comments:

At 9/22/2005 6:48 AM, Blogger maybesomeday said...

Dan will be missed. Hopefully there is another forward thinker out there for his replacement.

As for Moline, well you said it best - everything is according to the Deere formula. That is how we all got stuck with stupid Welavert for Mayor. Deere wanted the numskull. Well when he raises our taxes, he's going to be in some real hot water soon.

Moline had a chance to get some excitement going with O'Brien as Mayor. That was a huge opportunity missed. O'Brien needs to stay involved and run again!!

 
At 9/22/2005 11:37 AM, Blogger politicalwind said...

I have had the opportunity to work with Dan Carmody on a limited basis, and interviewed him for an article about his creative efforts to spur activity downtown. I came away mightily impressed by his intelligence, passion, creativity and humor. He learned the old adage, never take yourself too seriously but take issues seriously.

This area will miss his talent, wit and ability to get things done.

Good luck, Dan!

 
At 9/23/2005 11:17 AM, Blogger maybesomeday said...

DOpe, please find out for us where the send off party is and when since it will be a must not miss event.

Dan C is a boatload of fun. I have been with him at functions and drank a few beers and he's a great guy to chat with and enjoy his company. I'd like one last time to see him in an informal setting before he moves along!

 
At 9/23/2005 10:01 PM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

I have no information on a send-off party, but have already thought that it would be one hell of a party. I only hope I become aware of it. I wouldn't miss it.

 

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