Drive down Seventh Street, and you will see opportunities. There are empty storefronts, but theres also new businesses and rehabilitation. From the Phoenix Traders to the Mid-Town offices, Seventh Street is changing for the better. Sure, its got a shady reputation; the first woman arrested for soliciting was in 1901. But thanks to the outreach of THAT (Total Health Awareness Team) Place and the closing of three bars, this area is losing its red-light luster.
The biggest impact, in my opinion, has been Zion Development, an outreach of Zion Lutheran Church. Their projects include the Queen Anne Building (which houses Rockford Urban Ministries, whom I work for), the three-story building where Pickermans Soup & Sandwiches sells their wares (and where I have my upstairs apartment), and Zions present project, the Lantow building on Fourth Avenue.
The next biggest project developer is probably our new mayor, Larry Morrissey, who owns property on Third Avenue: soon-to-be high end condos in beautifully preserved 1920-style buildings.
But the structure that looms over this neighborhood is the AMCORE Bank and its auxiliary buildings. Their smaller offices are beautifully restored, impressively clean, and occupied. And the home bank leaves a large park-like footprint; I enjoy watching the changing seasons through the trees that surround their facility.
The Seventh Street neighborhood has a number of historically significant buildings. Built by Swedish craftsmen, half of the structures have been torn down and not replaced. But drive Seventh Street today, and you will see restoration that will charm tourists of architectural history.
Unfortunately, like people who have been on a bad binge, the recovery process is slow. Seventh Street used to be alcohol-saturated from one end to the other. The liquor industry was getting a free ride in selling their wares to our weakest neighbors. These businesses preyed on the victims of addiction. Now these addicts are healing themselves.
You can still get cheap booze, but in fewer facilities. As Zion Development, with city help, purchased bar after bar and shut them down, evidence of recovery materialized in Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meeting rooms, taking advantage of the cheap rent. Though not welcomed by most businesses, these are positive signs that the neighborhood is changing for the better. Our community should support them! After all, we lived off the alcoholics taxes just as the bar owners lived off their profits.
The city, when they were turning a blind eye to the Seventh Street dives, came out on the short end (as with all addictive businesses). The cost of police outweighs the revenue in liquor taxes. True, the recovery programs do not pay much in taxes, but the recovered alcoholics will be productive citizens. And Seventh Street is recovering.
Zion Development has an excellent record when it comes to rehabilitating homes. Almost half the homes to the west of Seventh Street were affected by their work (Habitat for Humanity has been building new homes to the east). Zion built the first new construction in this area on 6th Avenue and Fifth Street, and they are now focusing energies on commercial buildings. The city threw them a curve ball when aldermen suggested market-rate condos were needed more than affordable housing, but Zion adapted, and everyone is looking forward to the new projects on Fourth Avenue.
Rockford Urban Ministries (whom I work for) has had its offices here in Zions Queen Anne Building (623 Seventh St.) right next door to what was the worst bar in the county. That bar, The Flame, is now closed. Im sure you can ask the police who they think should now have the title.
Ive been on Seventh Street since 1993, and it has never been better than now! You are invited to visit. But go get drunk someplace else.
Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.
From the May 11-17, 2005, issue