Commercial viability or taxpayer turmoil

Commercial viability or taxpayer turmoil

By Ron Tenin

Commercial viability

or taxpayer turmoil

All four mayoral candidates have done Rockford proud so far. Each in his own way has shown that he understands many of the issues. We are lucky to have such a talented field. Hot issues like our schools and transportation are finally getting much-needed attention and discussion. But the big question, as I see it, has yet to be addressed.

In the last decade, our community has become fractured and disillusioned. Decisions made decades earlier have created many of our problems. We shunned the economic development of Chrysler, not wanting to attract all those “blue collar” folks into our community. We even made the fatal decision to not have downtown access available via I-90 tollway . We built that moat around our city to protect our town from those scary “outsiders”! We suffer from past decisions and must overcome these mistakes; we should not give up on correcting past misjudgments.

Now, when we attempt to move Rockford into the 21st century, we face some difficult obstacles. Have any of you folks ever visited a city of our size and not been able to access the heart of the city? We’ve invested millions into the MetroCentre and Coronado, and these venues are not commercially viable. Imagine not being able to exit I-90 and access the central city. This is why hotels have never invested downtown, and this is why the MetroCentre and Coronado are likely to be serious burdens on the taxpayers for decades to come.

If Winnebago County feels the most pressing need in our community is to build a redundant road connecting Perryville to the Wisconsin state line, our mayoral candidates need to go on record and make clear what their priorities are. This project has a $35 million price tag that surely will be in the $50 to $60 million range if it ever comes to fruition. Folks, for less than $50 million, we can build that Woodruff Expressway that would connect our tollways directly to the downtown. This kind of access will turn both the Coronado and MetroCentre from financial drags to financial winners. The taxpayer is on the hook for these two venues to the tune of one million a year, which will surely rise as the newness of the Coronado fades and the ability to do 150 shows a year becomes the pie-in-the-sky hyperbole it always was.

The taxpayer carries the burden for their success, and we should insist if we have 50 million available for investment, the long-delayed Woodruff Expressway sure is much more important to the taxpayers, the downtown area and the west side. It’s time we stop feathering the nest of a few hungry developers, and it’s time we try to protect the interests of the folks who built this city the old-fashioned way, hard work and lots of sweat.

So, I ask you, mayoral candidates and all members of the community: What are our priorities, and what are you going to do to protect the taxpayer from the enormous exposure we now face? This project of connecting the tollways to downtown can be done if we present a strong, unified voice, and we might just have an ace in the hole. Senator Peter Fitzgerald most likely wants to become our next governor. If we support him and help get him elected, perhaps he can help us secure the funding for such a project. Fitzgerald has strong ties to Rockford and understands our problems. Can we get together and help him achieve his goal, at the same time making a dynamic move to dramatically move Rockford forward?

Ron Tenin is the owner of Rockford Furniture.

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