Circle, not block, Amerock

Imagine circling the Amerock building on a map and making plans. Think about how this keystone property sits at the base of the downtown River District for residents, developers, businesses, elected officials and anyone with vision.

Politely, how naive and shortsighted any proposal is that puts income-capped housing into this magnificent property—sitting right on our central festival grounds—Davis Park.

What visitors to On the Waterfront would think of urban planning in Rockford, if they saw such an inappropriate usage of such vital real estate. Rockford’s Continued from page A1

image would be presented very poorly as a whole.

Our officials say this is the best we can do. That assertion reflects on them, not on the stakeholders of the area. We need more diversity, our officials say. If true diversity is desired, we need more market-rate housing units.

At this time, Gary Anderson and Associates have determined that we already have approximately 1,270 units or more of income-restricted, subsidized housing within seven blocks of the Amerock building—the Luther Center, Oleson Plaza, North Main Manor, Faust Landmark Apartments, Jane Addams and Brewington Oaks complexes and Old City Hall. Skyrise Apartments, Anchor Group housing, and Park Terrace are not included in the 1,270 unit count.

In a stark and growing contrast, a few more than 50 market-rate housing, multifamily units exist in the same area: the Phenex Building, Morrissey Lofts, Brown Building, Medicine ManLofts, Irish Rose Lofts, and Bystrom/Bruno Properties. Count the other upscale, market-rate housing developed by Icon Development, plus the fine efforts by Haight Village, and the number grows to approximately 75 units. Most of these have come about with the big upswing of the area in the last four years.

Some of these projects have had subsidies from government programs, but they are all market-rate rents with more disposable income, not income-restricted rents with less disposable income.

Yet, the income-restricted housing still outnumbers the upscale housing by more than 1,100 units. Where’s the diversity in that?

As the Jane Addams complex may be replaced by the Hope VI scattered-site concept, will we just move some of those residents across the river to the Amerockbuilding? How foolish and self-defeating.

And what of the residents who are paying on the upper end of up to $1,200 rent a month to live in the cosmopolitan area known as the River District and Haight Village? Will they stay, when the keystone Amerock building goes to income-restricted housing?

What of the market-rate units in the Amerock building? Will they be rentable with low-income or Section 8 units in the same building? The scenario is set for failure and setting back the progress embodied in the 200 market-rate units we have.


In 2001, Milwaukee developer Tim Dixon, who has his sights set on the Amerock building, saw market-rate housing as his goal, too. In fact, a letter drafted by this writer for the River District Association on his behalf, spoke of a proposal for 80 percent market-rate housing for Amerock. The letter was written so he could apply for state monies. Apparently, he could only find funds through tax credits conditional on income restrictions, so he went the other way.

Mr. Dixon’s other developments seem to be of good quality; however, those developments are smaller-scale projects without such a huge impact.

The impact of the Amerock project on other present and future developers is a key question.

Developers and investors who have committed their efforts and money to their own downtown projects feel their wherewithal is threatened rather than protected and promoted by complementary projects. Instead, their efforts will be degraded, and they will have a hard time asking for high-end rents when 80-plus units in the Amerock building have lower levels.

If the Amerock project goes through as proposed, present investors will lose, and future investors will avoid us because who’s to know if another project like this one could be set down right next to their best efforts?

All of our efforts will be set back two decades because the tax credits for Dixon’s project cannot be changed to market-rate under that program for 15 years. Yes, the Amerock building will be locked down to those income levels for 15 years.


For 15 years, the lack of income will affect existing businesses’ investments based on the design of attracting an increasing number of clients who have the disposable income to sustain and increase business. In other words, the market will be weakened, rather than strengthened.

Strength comes from vitality, like that offered by the River District’s Pub Crawl and Groove Walk (with O.T.W.), the Arts Council’s ArtScene, Fiesta Hispana, the Wing Ding, Uncorked, the 4th of July celebration and our On the Waterfront festival.

What will visitors to our River District think about us when they visit us, and we have an income-restricted project right on our premier festival park? Not much. Will they return? Would you?

What of the more than considerable investment that the Rockford Park District, the City of Rockford, the State of Illinois, and private contributors have sunk into Davis Park? Doesn’t common sense dictate that those investments should be enhanced and not degraded? That was the plan, supposedly.

Pick a plan

For years, a running joke with downtown business people has been all the downtown plans, many done by out-of-town consultants. We all grab our wallets when we think of all our money that has been spent on them and has gone largely out of town. Apparently, we aren’t to be trusted with determining our own destiny.

Here’s the list of studies our associations and elected officials have commissioned since the mid-1980s: Operation Bull’s-eye; Downtown Market Rate Housing Study; Designation: River Central 1994-1998; Rockford, Illinois Central Area Strategic Marketing Plan; Blueprint for Rockford’s Future; and this year’s River District Framework Plan. Whew.

What do we get out all of these studies, most of which call for more, not less, “market-rate housing”? Our elected officials give us the low-ball Amerock project.

Maybe when they get back from Peoria, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Chattanooga, Tacoma or wherever the hell they are shopping for ideas they don’t seem to have this week, we can tell them something.

How about, “Stay home. Talk to us. Listen to us. Keep our money in town. It’s simple, bring us the money, and we’ll develop downtown because you don’t seem to know what you’re doing. You don’t even pay attention to your own plans after planning the plan to plan the plan. We act. We are business people who know how to handle money.

“And… it’s our money. Yes, the TIF funds, the state taxes used to give out the tax credits—those are our local, state and federal tax dollars, and we don’t want them spent to defeat us! We gave you the money, don’t use it like a club to clobber the very people who gave it to you! It’s our money. Rockford City Council, Mr. Scott, Mr. Blagojevich, are you listening?! It’s our money, not yours; don’t use our money against us.”

The right plan

Here’s what almost everybody is saying. Don’t use our money to add to the glut of income-restricted housing in the area. If you do that in the Amerock building, you are sealing the fate of everything down South Main Street, including that new IGA that just went in with support of our city tax dollars. The rail yards and the old factories will not attract the investors we all desire if you low-ball the Amerock building. You will also screw up any upscale development of the Tapco building next door. Those two buildings are the transition properties from downtown to South Main Street.

The Amerock building is also right across the river from the Ingersoll building, which was bought with $2 million of our money. Don’t diminish those dollars or degrade that potential with a step back into the 1960s social warehousing. The Ingersoll building is a big warehouse that would make a great convention center. At least rent out Ingersoll and get some money back while we sit on it. Complement and push that possibility with a strong Amerock project.

The River District and Marge and Kyle Bevers and Don Bissell can help. Talk to them. They have a list of 20 to 30 people who want to move downtown, and pay really good money for upscale space. They tell of people from Chicago who pay $4,000 a month rent, who want to get out of the rat race and consider $2,000 a month for rent a deal! If you really insist on an out-of-town model, talk to Don. He’ll tell you to go no farther than your computer and look at the Web site in Long Beach, California. That was a very similar building to the Amerock building, and it took two to three years to sell out as condos, and it lifted the entire area it was in, like downtown and South Main.

Getting the picture? Talk to us. One gentleman, a contract carpenter, who was observing the press conference protesting the Amerock project on Monday, said, “I’d buy a condo in that place [the Amerock building] in a minute. But I’m not coming down here until I’m sure it’s cleaned up.”

Please give us stability instead of continuing problems. We should be working to diminish low-income property instead of increasing it. Promote ownership instead of transient rentals. Affordable housing should be housing you can purchase, not rent. We need owner-occupied properties downtown.

The top floors of the Amerock are prime for a great restaurant, condos and penthouses. The structure could easily support a pool up there. Soundproof the windows to keep out the festival noise. What about a few floors of hotel space; the festival people will rent them just to rest and take a shower, plus the fact that many of the people who attend the festivals need rooms, too.

Bissell says the Amerock has enough rooftops for many rooftop gardens. Those will help keep the cooling and heating bills down. Set up solar panels to run some lights. Put the parking in the intervening floors, not the first six as currently proposed.

The first two floors should be entirely commercial—offices, restaurants and retail stores. What a great space for a Starbucks or Crate and Barrel store.

Since Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau might move from Memorial Hall, what better place for them than right on Davis Park? From there, our tourism bureau could direct attending tourists out to Midway Village, both Sportscores, Anderson Gardens, the Burpee Museum and Jane, the Rockford Art Museum and the Discovery Center, Cliffbreakers and Lungo’s, Rockford and Rever’s marinas, the Icehouse and Sinnissippi Gardens, the trolley and Forest City Queen, Klehm Arboretum and all of our great downtown restaurants. Are we going to cap that income? Are we designated as the Cultural Corridor or not? Rockford is a great town, let’s act like it.

If parking is really considered a challenge, let’s build down instead of up. Underground parking has been the norm in Chicago for decades. Offer to buy the Warshawsky or the River City Station property, and give them a fair price with relocation costs, if needed. Don’t eminent domain them; we’ve had enough of that. Take our other surface parking and build down, and put up some signs that can be seen at night, locating them and telling if parking is available while you’re at it.

Where’s the money? Where’s the love?

Where’s the money coming from? Properly save money by not going out of town and by ending endless studies. Use our TIF funds, state and federal taxes and encourage local developers to invest at home. Hello, Rockford money. Come back downtown where you belong, forget snowbirding and investments in Florida, Arizona and Hawaii. Sooner or later you’ll be down here anyway. We’ll welcome, support and praise you. We like cool, smart, hard-working people because we are on the move, too. Get in now, while prices are reasonable.

Remember, the rising tide lifts all boats, and an ocean of talent and determination exists in our downtown River District. We want everyone to succeed, and we will not let anyone hold us down.

The full spectrum of labor is concerned about the growth of construction projects downtown. If the Amerock building goes 100 percent market-rate and commercial, the number of other projects and jobs will increase, and labor will be happy.

More business will come. Look at our recent additions—the expanding Rockford Marina, Minglewood, Carlyle Brewing Co., and the Phenex Building. Business owners, boaters, shoppers and residents are excited. The tide is up.

We are in a circle of support and fantastic possibilities around the Amerockbuilding. Don’t make us spend our energy blocking this project. We can do so many better things with our time and our money.

We are acting on the stated mission of the River District Association: “To create a growing, thriving, prosperous downtown community.”

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