Hanging Out in Rockford: Where’s the plan?

I am at Rock Valley College with Elisha. We are at a Council of 100 event that is being put on by Cisco Systems in concert with Trekk Design and a number of other concerns that are Internet oriented. I introduce Elisha to the mayor. I am trying to talk to the mayor (again) about the way our downtown is perceived. I personally think the River District is the best part of our community, and I am baffled every time someone says it needs to be redeveloped. I am constantly working to get people to understand that when you say that something needs to be redeveloped, you are actually hindering its further development.

When I started the Old Rock River Café, about 25 years ago, there were only about a dozen businesses between Third Street and the river, and the entire mall was empty. Truly, in that day downtown needed to be “redeveloped.” Now there are less than a dozen vacant properties in all of downtown. This is a normal amount of working stock, and in fact, the downtown is more sold out, leased out, than any mall in the area.

A talking head standing next to the mayor says they cannot promote any one part of Rockford over another. The mayor says nothing. I am so flabbergasted by this that I fail to reply. Later, in conversation with Elisha I think of what I should have answered. “Twenty-seven percent.” That is the percentage that Larry Morrissey received in the general election as an independent candidate. That is the percentage he received in spite of the daily newspaper buying the other candidates’ baloney that he was just a blip on the radar screen and never running any polls. That is the percentage that was generated by a bunch of downtown people who believed in a candidate with vision.

Three years have passed since the election. We initially heard about Doug Scott’s vision for downtown in the Register Star. I personally do not know what that vision is. I am a reasonably intelligent person who reads the two Rockford newspapers on a regular basis. I also listen regularly to WNTA and WNIJ. Surely, if there is a plan, I should have heard about it. I recently called in to Ken DeCoster on WNTA and challenged anyone who knew what the plan is to call in. To my knowledge, no one ever did.

The city has acquired a number of properties since the new administration has come into power, and is planning/trying to acquire more. Usually, this signifies a plan in the works. I mean, why buy property aimlessly? Especially at the public’s expense in trying economic times. Buying this property does two things. It taxes our ability to provide services, and it removes these properties from the tax rolls, causing further economic dilemma for the taxing bodies.

Furthermore, when we ask about the plans for these properties, we are told that we cannot be trusted to know. The public, who pays for this, who pays your salaries, who is your boss, is not allowed to know what the plan is. I find this very unsettling. Why would you need to conceal this from us or, for that matter, from anyone? Wouldn’t the natural thing be to get the widest exposure so that we can receive as many bids, ideas, and proposals as possible? What possible legitimate need would there be to cover up these things?

Some people who remodel a business cover the windows and lock the front door. I have always left the windows uncovered and the door open. I always drop whatever I am doing to talk to whoever walks in. It slows the construction down a little, but it helps ever so much when you open for business. You have a wonderful opportunity when you let people in. An opportunity for exposure and publicity. An opportunity you will never have again in quite the same way no matter how long you own that business.

Mayor Scott, if there is a plan, open the door and take the paper off the windows. Let us in and talk to us about what it is you are doing. It can only bring positive results. It will only further what you are trying to accomplish. If you truly have a vision, share it with us.

Owner of the Irish Rose (Rockford) and Irish Rose North (Rockton) restaurants, Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. These columns are also available on his Web site: IrishRoseRockford.com and featured on WNTA talk radio AM 1330.

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