Guest Column: Armory’s historic status lost in backroom deal

Guest Column: Armory’s historic status lost in backroom deal

By Sylvia Pagel

The March 6 sheriff’s sale of the Armory to Mirador LLC was a surprise to many because until then, the reverter clause was still in the deed on record in Ken Staaf’s office. Since there was never a “For Sale” sign on the Armory, the general public would naturally assume that the OIC sign on the front lawn meant they still owned it. All the controversy surrounding ownership and future use is the end result of OIC’s 1997 decision to renege on their commitment to use the site for 20 years for educational purposes.

Ownership should have immediately returned to the state after OIC vacated in 1999. During the four years that have elapsed since the Armory was abandoned, deliberate neglect, vandalism, water damage and frozen plumbing have resulted in thousands of dollars in damage. The park district sat on their hands while the Armory deteriorated literally right under its nose. Now they expect the community to support its upcoming referendum. If they hadn’t been entirely preoccupied with finding an avenue to circumvent the historic preservation covenant (so they could proceed with demolition), they would not have been blindsided by the mayor’s unethical backroom deal with Mirador LLC and AMCORE.

OIC Executive Director Carl Towns, AMCORE, State Sen. (Dave) Syverson and Rockford Mayor Doug Scott were all well aware from the beginning that the reverter clause precluded use of the Armory for loan collateral. If OIC needed more money in addition to what they had already gotten from their federal funding, there was nothing to prevent them from holding fund-raisers just like all other non-profit corporations have always done. After all, they were given (for $1) the ideal location and facility for fund-raising events—that’s been proven for decades by dozens of organizations thousands of times. The Armory has been a focal point of community life since it was opened to the public to serve a dual purpose as both our local National Guard Headquarters and civic center in 1937. So while our civic leaders try to drum up a centennial celebration for Memorial Hall, they have pointedly ignored the Armory, which is also an important Rockford landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Since it’s now apparent that OIC, Towns, Scott, Syverson and Mirador have been in bed together for more than a year, wheeling and dealing, it doesn’t give much hope for a positive future outcome for the Armory. The new deed recorded March 7 no longer has the historic preservation covenant that was supposed “to run with the land in perpetuity.” There’s enough stink on the Armory sale that Lisa Madigan should be able to smell it all the way down in Springfield. Further public scrutiny of this unethical backroom deal will put the spotlight on the reality that now a historic Rockford landmark has been lost in a historic scam.

Sylvia Pagel is a local community activist concerned with historic preservation.

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