River District meets on Amerock

n Members voice opposition to original plan

Approximately 120 members of Rockford’s downtown River District held a special meeting May 27 at Memorial Hall to listen to and speak to a Milwaukee-area developer’s plan to convert the vacant Amerock Building into mostly low and moderate-income housing, rather than market-rate housing. By meeting’s end, some members believed the developer may alter his original plan.

Tim Dixon, partner in Amerock Lofts, LLC, and Milwaukee-based Cornerstone Property Development, and Jim Caruso, director of Community Development for the city, gave presentations and answered questions about original plans to convert the historic 14-story building, adjacent to Davis Park into 85 loft-type apartments.

Under the previous plan, federal qualifying low-income residents would occupy 75 of the units while the remaining 10 would be market-rate housing. However the original plan, which the River District Association endorsed in 2001, called for 80 to 90 market-rate, residential units.

Member after member of the district denounced the latest plan during the commentary portion of the meeting. Members’ denunciations and expressed support for market-rate housing were received with loud applause. Editor and Publisher of The Rock River Times, Frank Schier, broke meeting protocol to passionately call for Dixon to use the building as a “showcase” for downtown, and that anything less than market-rate residential, commercial or mixed use was an inappropriate utilization of this key piece of real estate. Schier also said the proposed housing is inappropriate adjacent to our premier festival grounds, Davis Park. Schier lives and works in the River District.

Other speakers emphasized that downtown already has numerous low-income housing buildings and District members should support “market value efforts.”

Without tax credits and funding that low-income housing brings, Dixon suggested market-rate housing had little chance of success because of Rockford’s “depressed rental market” and “Chicago [construction] labor costs.” According to Dixon, total project costs average $141,176 per unit, or $12 million total.

Dixon said rent estimates without tax credits were $1,050 per month for a three-bedroom unit, $850 for a two-bedroom unit and $630 for a one-bedroom unit. The previous plan called for 23 three-bedroom, 39 two-bedroom and 23 one-bedroom apartments. Information on the allotments in the original plan were unavailable at press time.

According to federal data, 1999 per capita income in Winnebago County was $21,194 per year compared with the state’s $23,104. The median household income in Winnebago County was $43,886 annually compared with the state’s $46,590. Within one mile of the Amerock Building, the median household income is $19,319. Within the River District, 2000 census data indicates 70.6 percent of households earn less than $25,000 per year.

John Smith, who recently invested $500,000 to refurbish the Phenix Building at 303-313 Mulberry Street, said people who have a $19,000 income do not have money to spend to recreate, dine out and patronize other downtown businesses. Chad Anderson, who has revitalized several downtown and Haight Village properties, said “market-rate housing works” and Amerock should be “Rock River Towers South.”

Dave Sidney, a student in planning at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said for “new urbanism” development to be successful, a “critical mass of middle and upper income” is required. Sidney said he did not support Dixon’s original plan. The original plan was supported by a May 8 River District resolution that was spearheaded by Sarah Skorija, River District president.

Dixon concluded the meeting by saying: “I build projects to be timeless…. I’m committed to the community, and I’d like to see more market housing.” Dixon said he and local attorney Larry Morrissey, who also lives and works downtown, will meet again in June.

River District Executive Director Kim Wheeler said in a June 3 e-mail, “As I mentioned at the special board meeting, the board will reconsider their resolution in support of this project at their regularly scheduled meeting on Thurs., June 12 at 4 p.m..”

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