River District responds

On June 12, After input from membership and many downtown stakeholders, the River District Association’s Board of Directors rescinded its support of Milwaukee developer Tim Dixon’s proposal for the Amerock building. The board had endorsed the project on May 8.

Listening to rising discontent with the May 8 decision, the district held a special meeting May 27 in which approximately 120 association members voiced their opposition about the project to Dixon and Rockford’s Community Development Director Jim Caruso.

On June 9, more than 50 downtown developers, business owners, residents, concerned citizens and elected officials voiced their opposition at a press conference at the old Lorden building. Alderman Frank Beach (R-10) read a statement by State Sen. Dave Syverson questioning the proposed development and voiced his opposition. Alderman Doug Mark (R-3) also noted the opposition in his ward and introduced a resolution in city council to block Tax Increment Financing for the project as presently proposed. The resolution was referred to the Planning and Development Committee.

Mark said, “We want to proceed with the resolution with the city to ensure that a market-rate project goes into the Amerock building. It’s imperative that this happen.”

River District Association Board President Sarah Skorija said: “I think that the board made the right decision after listening to our members at a special meeting we had, and after investigating the project more. The board realized that the project as presented to us was not appropriate for downtown Rockford. We are also pleased that the city is continuing to work with the developer to make sure the project is appropriate for downtown.”

Dixon said he was not surprised about the district rescinding its support.

He said of the proposed project’s state funding: “We haven’t given up. We were working for a good project before the uprising. I’m a community builder, not a destroyer. We have worked to convert our proposal to different scenarios. The state [Illinois Housing Development Authority (IDHA)] is going to put our proposal on hold for a couple weeks. We hope the community will be happy. We are working on a couple of scenarios that will not only be a financial success, but we hope will be a community success.”

The “uprising,” as Dixon termed it, was focused on the proposed 88 percent moderate and low-income, income-capped housing for the project that would be financed by tax credits. The provisions of those tax credits stipulate that the project would be income-capped for 15 years.

These ratios and provisions are opposed by the River District members and downtown stakeholders who want market-rate rents or owner-occupied housing for the Amerock building, which faces Davis Park.

Many stakeholders have sent petitions and letters to IDHA officials opposing more low-income or income-capped housing in the area.

Those in opposition to income-capped housing point out that 1,200 such units already exist in the area, versus less than 100 market-rate units, which have been on the upswing and help to provide disposable income for the area’s businesses. They want the Amerock to be 100 percent market-rate housing.

Since the mid 1980s, six studies and plans have been drawn up by government and local associations, calling for only market-rate housing to advance the area, and Downtowners who paid for the plans are asking whether those plans are going to be followed by government officials.

“We look at the River District plan, and we interpret that plan to have a wide range of rents as well as market-rate unit prices,” Caruso said. “If we’re looking at rentals or sales, we look at that to be a full range of unit rents as well as prices. In the Morrissey building, we had to provide subsidies to provide market-rate rents, and we are looking at that in the Amerock building as well.”

Caruso continued: “Look at the Luther Center. That is for the elderly and assisted living. I’m not going to question that those are low-income, but the Amerock has a different population base. We have heard the River District, and have met with IDHA, and we’re going back to the drawing board and other configurations.”

Referring to his June 12 meeting with IDHA officials in Chicago, Caruso said with just 4 percent tax credit bonds to provide equity to bring down the rents, Dixon will not have to score as high with the state by providing more low-income units, as opposed to the original 9 percent he was after.

Caruso noted city credits may be available through property tax abatement, and a potential exists of using federal funding sources in this project.

The 2003 River District Framework Plan calls for “a premium and diverse” residential district and “attract[ing] young professionals, empty nesters and others to an urban environment with housing types and amenities not available elsewhere in the community.” It also called for “more market-rate housing in the River District and surrounding neighborhoods to attract additional commercial and entertainment uses.”

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