Response to Downtown Task Force Report: A letter

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//img-rliTH4xejT.jpg’, ‘Photo by Paul Marek’, ‘Outside the Burpee Museum For the Aug. 25 meeting of the Mayor's Downtown Task Force’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//img-UNrrtaxzNm.jpg’, ‘Photo by Paul Marek’, ‘Tom Meyer speaks between the renderings of what the Task Force sees for the future of Davis Park and the MetroCentre’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//img-2QmP4aHsqL.jpg’, ‘Photo by Paul Marek’, ‘The audience listens patiently as Tom Meyer reveals the findings of the Mayors Downtown Task Force’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//img-IXfRa8jbYN.jpg’, ‘Photo by Paul Marek’, ‘Matt Sumy of C.H. Johnson Consulting Inc. explains why the MetroCentre does not need to compete with Madison and Chicago venues, nor is it neccessary to attract big name shows to Rockford's less than ideal location, second city’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//img-J7QK2y9E1t.jpg’, ‘Photo by Paul Marek’, ‘Bill Beard takes his turn as the audience gets to speak’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//img-CoTK4EQi6L.jpg’, ‘Photo by Paul Marek’, ‘Larry Morrissey questions the financial aspects as well as the concept of the Task Force's findings’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//img-HFlQu4Te0q.jpg’, ‘Photo by Paul Marek’, ‘Hans Rupert begs to know who leads the revitalization and when it starts. There are no answers’);

August 25, 2004

Atty. Thomas Meyer

Meyer & Horning

3400 North Rockton Avenue

Rockford, IL 61102

Re: Response to Downtown Task Force Report

Dear Mr. Meyer:

In response to the Mayor’s request for input on the recently published, “Downtown Task Force Report,” (the “Report”go to to see this), I submit the following comments:

1. The removal of the Main Street Pedestrian Mall is the correct decision and should be done as quickly as possible.

The Main Street Mall has been an impediment to development for years and its removal will allow for greater marketing, development potential, and visibility for such buildings as the New American Theater, Kortman’s, Octane, Stewart Square, Kryptonite, the Elk’s Club, the Coronado Theater, and the Times Theater. Every effort should be made, however, to create new gathering spaces for pedestrians to replace the mall’s gathering space. A “plaza” type design might be employed to accomplish this in the area bounded by the Public Library, Memorial Hall, and the New American Theater. The CIP also seems to be an appropriate source of funding for this effort.

2. The task force report is more closely modeled after a 1970’s “urban renewal” model rather than the modern model of downtown as a “town center” or “lifestyle center”.

The Report’s emphasis on creating, or re-inventing, certain venues for “special events” rather than focusing on “place-making” is incorrect. While improving Davis Park, The MetroCentre, and the Museum Campus might be laudable goals, they should not take priority over critical infrastructure requirements like roadways, pathways, and parking. The report also talks of “leveraging” these investments with private investment (Report, page 6); however, the Report fails to discuss how land-use plans and zoning might be changed to encourage private development in and around these venues. Simply put, the report fails to put together a cohesive financial plan to prepare, assemble, and market properties to the development community.

The Report, for example, speaks of wanting downtown to be a place where people live and own homes (Report, page 5); however, the clear emphasis of the report is on special events venues without identifying where new retail stores might be located around the venues. The funding priorities as well as the design priorities necessary to make these event locations work will cut against the effort to make downtown a “place” where people live, work, and stay. The emphasis on “tearing down” buildings with little provision for private businesses, private residences, private investment, and private partnerships, does not bode well for developing a property and sales tax base to support services and future development.

3. The most critical public infrastructure development should be the construction of a full “riverwalk” along both sides of the river from where the current path starts at the YMCA on the North, running south to Blackhawk Park/Marinelli Field.

The report mentions almost in passing that the Park District should build a “Riverfront walkway” (Report page 2), but this appears to be almost an afterthought with no mention of building the river path beyond the short run from the Museum Park to Davis Park; nor does the report mention any funding sources for this critical component. While approximately 14 miles of pathway have been built along Perryville Road from Rock Cut State Park to the Kishwaukee river area, and while the County has recently announced 14 miles of pathway to be constructed from Pecatonica to Rockford, the Rock River in the City of Rockford has had no pathway additions for years.

River pathways have been the critical design paradigm for successful riverfront redevelopments around the United States. From the famous Riverwalk of San Antonio, Texas to the Naperville, Illinois Riverwalk, a commitment and financial plan to build Rockford’s riverwalk should be the number one priority for infrastructure improvements Downtown. Financing of this effort can be done in large part through motor fuel tax revenues such as has been used on the Perryville Path and the County’s newly announced Pecatonica path.

It will be practically impossible to get any continuous interest from developers to build along our river without a continuous riverwalk plan in place. Developers can build individual projects or buildings, but an individual developer cannot build a road or build a riverwalk. Once the riverwalk plan is in place, however, and building along this riverwalk begins, this will attract more private development and private tax base to fuel future projects. The marketing of the whole series of venues on the river will be greatly enhanced by the ability to market them collectively as part of the riverwalk. Once the riverwalk is completed, “the whole” riverfront, will be greater than the “sum of the parts.”

The tributaries such as Kent Creek and Keith Creek must also be part of this plan. When we connect such venues as Burpee, The Discovery Center, the Public Library, the Ingersoll building, the Madison Street Corridor, Barber Coleman Village, Tinker Cottage, and Marinelli Stadium, then downtown will attract hotels and other development to serve this area. By connecting currently undeveloped areas like the Ingersoll property and the Barber Coleman Village property, moreover, they will be much more valuable to private developers.

4. The Report identifies that “new attractive housing” is essential for the “long-term” viability of downtown, that there must be “a significant influx of people living and owning homes downtown,” and that “subsidies for construction should be dramatic” (Report, page 5); however, the Report identifies no sources of funding for such housing and encourages the destruction of potential housing stock.

In fact, the Report’s suggestion that the “City should immediately acquire and demolish the Amerock and Tapco Buildings” (Report, page 4) totally contradicts the goal of encouraging and financing home ownership. The destruction of the Amerock and Tapco buildings would destroy two critical sources of support for downtown residential housing. As historic structures, both Amerock and Tapco would be eligible for the National Historic Preservation Tax Credit. This credit could provide approximately 20% of the financing for these buildings. These buildings would also be eligible for recapturing their property taxes to provide Tax Increment Financing of 20% of the construction costs or even greater. Under State law, TIF cannot be used on new construction, but only can be used for rehabilitation of existing buildings. Thus, the demolition of these two buildings would result in the loss of 40% or more of the potential construction financing for downtown housing. No other source of funding has been identified to replace these funding sources if these buildings are destroyed.

5. The Report’s vision is neither broad enough nor deep enough. The Report fails to fully consider or explain the role of places like Barber Coleman Village efforts (mentioned only briefly at page 4) or Rockford Public Library expansion plans, the Ingersoll Property.

While the Report makes clear that the Mayor asked the Task Force to examine Davis Park, the MetroCentre, and the Museum Campus, specifically (Report, page 1), the failure to look at the larger picture of downtown development, and near-downtown development, is a major concern. Too often, downtown is examined on a “project” basis instead of looking at the fundamental infrastructure connections that would encourage private development, enhance exiting facilities, and bring a cohesiveness to the entire area. On the contrary, if a priority is placed on the roadways, pathways, parking, and land-use planning, then private investment can be encouraged. The report vaguely references that these projects will enhance private development but fails to identify sources of fund

ing for such private development and fails to identify in any detail locations for such private development, such as retail development.

6. The Report’s recommendation of expanding the MetroCentre must be examined against the cost of such investment to a healthy urban marketplace.

The current design of the MetroCentre discourages retail development around the MetroCentre. There is no retail storefronts on the first floor of the MetroCentre and the block walls of the first floor of the building discourage development around this area. The frequent use of Main Street to the east of the MetroCentre as a staging area also makes proper circulation around the building impossible. The Report’s suggestion that the block to the North of the MetroCentre be used for staging and that Elm Street might be closed to traffic also bodes poorly for private development around the building.

Serious consideration should be given to phasing out the MetroCentre as an arena and possibly encouraging private developers to partner with municipal bodies to build a new arena. The existing concourse parking deck west of the MetroCentre makes this site attractive to potential retail development. If a new location for an arena is found, the current MetroCentre space might be a candidate for renovation for retail development, including a possible location of the multi-plex cinema discussed herein.

7. The development proposal for Davis Park would destroy buildings such as Amerock and Tapco that could be developed into retail, residential, or hotel development and would not be an efficient expenditure because it fails incorporate private retail or residential development in and around the site.

As stated herein, the loss of the Tapco and Amerock buildings would remove historic structures that can be leveraged for unique financing opportunities. A key component of any complex is to use an anchor to attract and keep people in the area to spend money. The massive expenditure for development of Davis Park, if used during warm weather months only, would not meet this critical goal of creating places where people will come every day, not just for a special event.

8. Development of the Museum Park is critical to the long-term viability of that area; however, the Report fails to identify potential private development partnerships for the Museum Campus and fails to identify a funding time-table and realistic possibility of raising the $8-$10 million for the new Art Museum.

The creation of a TIF district around the Museum Campus could provide a source of funding for this area. Private development could be encouraged to provide restaurants, retail space, and even housing that would take advantage of the new terraced landscape down to the river proposed in other plans for the Campus. While a new Art Museum building is also laudable, incorporating private development in and around the Campus could provide additional funds, which can be leveraged to make the development possible.

9. The report makes no mention of, nor identifies any locations for, retail development or movie theater development, which is a critical component of a successful downtown plan.

The original River District Framework plan outlined movie theater development as an immediate, ripe market opportunity. Movies appeal to the broad spectrum of the entertainment market, they get activity every day, and they would attract private retail development. The Museum Campus, the MetroCentre, and Davis Park do not afford the same level of day-to-day activity for the market. A cinema development, on the contrary, would be lead by private developers who might partner with the public sector. Again, this would be a better long-term economic engine and this type of development should be a greater priority than much of the entertainment expenditures outlined in the report.

Thank you for this opportunity. Please feel free to contact me with any further questions or comments.

Very truly yours,

Lawrence J. Morrissey

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