Editorial: Great project–share the cost

By Frank Schier

Editor & Publisher

Hoorah for the City of Rockford’s purchase of the Ingersoll complex on the Rock River. It’s a great idea. For years, many people have been suggesting the location as an ideal exhibition hall for the Metro Centre. We need it for multi-day shows, and we need more meeting room space.

The site on the river is a perfect property. Picture looking out a wall of glass at the river and Davis Park. The drawings look great, too. Finally, we are using river front property for real, attractive, appropriate development—rather than giving it to social services or to a favored party for only $1.

Great timing, too. The River District is a success; that’s why the Coronado, Federal Courthouse and the Reed Chatwood complex are now very viable. Despite what other media outlets have said, the reverse is not true.

So after all the sweat, money and years poured into the River District by private business people who have made this success, the city speeds up the bandwagon. Their efforts and new developers are vastly welcome; but once again, this paper continues to stress critical thinking.

The $2 million purchase price seemed a little high, especially since the purchase was made from a company that is struggling and wanted to get rid of the property. The city could driven a harder bargain. Perhaps $1 million or $1.25 million would have been a little more business-like. We are using taxpayer dollars. Also, experts say remodeling and parking will cost at least another $2-3 million more. Where is that money going to come from? The feasibility study is not even done.

The money that is being used for this purchase should come from another source besides the East Side TIF District. Draining East Side TIF for one big project that will close out all the small to medium applicants is unfair. Those very people are providing this money.

Remember how the 7th Street TIF went to Swedish American? Remember how the West Side TIF went to Rockford Blacktop/William Charles, LTD., for the Brown Apartments? More topically, remember how City Hall was paid for out of the TIF fund?

Like City Hall, the Riverfront/MetroCentre Exhibition Hall will benefit the entire area. Why should the costs be carried by only the business people in that area? Why must downtown pay, when the whole city, if not the whole county, will benefit? What about Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, Council of 100, or Winnebago County funds or their assistance in raising funds?

Wasn’t the Reed-Chatwood Complex paid for out of the $16 million city reserve fund? What about issuing bonds that would pay for this rather than focusing the burden on a few when many would benefit from the use of this much-needed facility?

Then add in parking. That needs to be a high deck with plenty of below-ground space. Surface parking is sucking up prime River District real estate.

Yes, this industrial site is close to the dam, but we have to make all property in the River District commercial or residential—including that south of the dam—if we want to become a real tourist attraction. By the way, if anybody tells you boating north of the dam is not safe, tell them, “Not so!” Any boater will tell you, the river is quite navigable above the dam, and many people anchor there during On The Waterfront and the 4th of July. Hopefully, they will include boat docks in the plan for the new exhibition hall. Great way to go—by water—and water taxis could take visitors from there on tours up river. The history alone makes a wonderful tour. Just ride the Forest City Queen and see for yourself.

Also, the historic Rockford Rescue Mission building at 121 S. Madison or the old Rockford Watch Factory at 325 S. Madison cannot be put in danger because of the need for parking for this facility. Preserve history.

Historically, Ingersoll has been a mainstay of this community. However, even if they were recently sold to a foreign concern, they still provide at least 400 jobs for the area. Some say this smacks of a bandaid-bailout or corporate welfare for a company in trouble. Could be.

However, in the end Mayor Scott may have done the right thing and helped those jobs and that company stay in this city.

The situation brings to mind how another worth-while project, the Coronado, was rammed through City Council by Mayor Box. Because of the lack of discussion, that great project was stained with controversy.

Let’s discuss the funding of the exhibition hall some more. The folks at City Hall do want public input, don’t they? To be sure, the many regular business owners in the East Side TIF District who want to restore their storefronts, expand their businesses, or start something new will be grateful to find their own money available in their own TIF Fund.

Yes, Ingersoll has contributed to that fund in the past. But they want to leave, and the future keeps looking brighter. Let’s keep that bright future available for everyone.

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