River District updating Framework Plan

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-113036105031923.jpg’, ‘Photo by Frank Schier’, ‘Fordam Dam is between the south end of Water Street on the east, south of Davis Park on the west.’);

ComEd willing to give Fordam Dam to city for $1, plus land

Winnebago County offers assistance with the plan

The River District Association has set a deadline for the end of this year for having its Framework Plan updated, Scott R. Long announced during a public meeting at Memorial Hall Oct 18.

Long, an architect, River District Association Board member and the Planning Committee chairman, said: “The Plan is a living document. Now, the key word is ‘implementing.’ We met with the city staff for five hours, and we really feel as if we are working as a team now.”

Prepared by the SmithGroup JJR, at the cost of $38,500, the most recent version of the Plan was finished in January 2003 in association with the Real Estate Planning Group; William J. Johannes, Architects; River District Board of Directors; and a 30-person steering committee.

Long said the uncertainty presented by the mayoral elections put much of the plan on hold, and again emphasized that “implementing” was now the focus of the Association and the City.

Farr Associates, an architectural, planning and preservation firm specializing in green and sustainable design, has been retained to help with the update, for a fee of $25,000. Rockford Park District, City of Rockford, SwedishAmerican Health System, YMCA, Rockford Area Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, CentreEvents, Burpee Museum of Natural History and the Association are funding the firm’s fee.

Long said he was impressed with the team Farr brought to Rockford: Shaw Environmental, Inc.; Goodman Williams Group, Real Estate Research; and Fish Transportation Group, Inc. Long said he was particularly struck by the depth of their financial assistance partners, Long-Balice Strategies.

Kim Wheeler, the Association’s executive director, said: “They are helping to research funding sources, which could be grants or other governmental funds. For example, money that might be available for transportation issues, riverbank development or brownfield funds.

“Doug Farr is on the cutting edge of performance architecture. They designed the City of Chicago’s flagship LEED Platinum Green Building, which was the first building to receive the ‘Superlative’ rating in the Midwest for high environmental performance,” Wheeler said.

Visit their Web site at www.farrside.com.

Long said every consultant the River District has worked with said two things. One, you have to build your foundation, and that’s residential housing. Two, get rid of the one-way streets. He noted that major logistical problems do not exist in changing over to two-way streets; it’s just some signage and restriping the pavement. He also said plenty of surface parking exists, and some parking decks are underutilized. However, in the future, the new county jail, the federal courthouse and some other large projects will require more parking, some of which may be underground.

Considering the breadth and long-range nature of the Framework Plan, five catalytic areas are identified as priorities for implementation. They are the following:

Connecting the federal courthouse to the river. After being presented with the Framework Plan, the architects for the new federal building faced it east to the river, rather than west toward the new jail. Long said he really felt the plan had a huge effect turning the building around, and stressed that a green corridor from the courthouse to the river is in the Plan.

Burpee and Discovery Center Museum Campus. Burpee’s Lew Crampton said the campus attracted 280,000 visitors last year. He is excited about wind and solar installation plans for the campus expansion, as well as possible underground parking and acquisition of parking areas across Main Street. He also said the concept of an I-Max Theater is in the works, and hopes the former Rockford Armory will be restored and utilized in some other capacity.

Ingersoll corridor. Long said although the new Register Star building closing off Water Street disrupts the way-finding-grid, the Ingersoll and adjoining ComEd property are essential. He said an extreme sports complex on the ComEd property adjacent to the Fordam Dam, complete with a kayak complex, excited the Farr Associates team.

He also recommended the metal box of the Ingersoll Building could be taken down, with the scrap steel paying for demolition. He said the City owns it, and we can do anything we want. He cited the necessity of opening up the view of the river east to west, now blocked by the building, and that would aid the development of the Rockford School District 205’s administration building as a residential complex.

Midway Theatre. Long said Kerasotes’ lease at CherryVale is up in two years, and the River District is trying to bring them downtown. He said the entire area around the Midway Theatre is crucial, and may be utilized in one way or another in its gateway role.

The Mall. Noting the mall was the most controversial of the catalytic areas, he said a great compromise would be to take it out while still being able to close it off for special events. In the past, hydraulic pylons have been proposed to rise out of the pavement for special event purposes. He also said lighting on the buildings are great architectual accents that should emphasize what we have in the area and improve safety perceptions.

He then referred to the “infamous cross-over” or swerve of Wyman Street to Main Street through the NAT and Memorial Hall parking lots that was proposed under former Mayor Doug Scott’s administration. Jim Ryan, now Mayor Larry Morrissey’s city administrator, was the architect of that proposal. Long said the Farr team recommended against the swerve.

Jerry Kortman, owner of J.R. Kortman’s, is very concerned about the swerve being resurrected because he thought it was dead with the election of Morrissey. His partner, Doc Slafkosky, and author of the Street Smart Plan alternative, which was published in The Rock River Times, said: “It seems to be a blatant effort to suburbanize downtown, which we feel that will lead to our downfall. We have been an urban center and environment. We are not like the suburbs, and that’s what gives us our meaning and power. Anything that disturbs that pedestrian friendliness will destroy us. We are not like far East State Street. We have sidewalks, and we want to keep them and the parking we do have. There are bad suburban things like the new parking lot in front of the National City Bank building and the new jail. We don’t want any of that, and the swerve is in that negative mold.”

More than 90 percent of the businesses who will be directly affected by the swerve were against it, when surveyed by The Rock River Times.

Long said the areas not in the Framework Plan that need attention are surrounding the new jail, south and west of the new federal courthouse, the railroad yards and the Barber Colman complex.

County help offered

Jim Hughes, building official and plan review official for Winnebago County, attended the update meeting, and said: “The county has found other funding sources and is willing to contribute to help with the revitalization of downtown. The goal is to get people downtown. The Employer Assisted Housing Plan is what I was looking at to get some affordable condos downtown that our employees can purchase. SwedishAmerican and AMCORE Bank are considering this program. Those condos that are going in on 7th Street would be good for medical interns and the same for AMCORE Bank employees, if they wanted to live close to work. Sue Mroz and the chairman have already attended programs on Employer Assisted Housing. We are a stakeholder downtown, and we should be part of the process. We’d be willing to look at any type of proposal.”

ComEd willing to donate Fordam Dam

Speaking of proposals, ComEd’s Regional External Affairs Manager Paul Callighan said at a Rock River Homeowners Association Dam Committee meeting at Castaways Bar and Grill Oct. 13

: “We will donate the dam to a responsible governmental body. It’s a standing offer with no restrictions.”

Callighan said “no restrictions” included the generation of hydroelectric power. When the dam was operative, he said it generated one megawatt of power. He also said the donation would include “some dirt,” specifically some of the adjacent land on the east side south of the dam. He said ComEd has a free title and wants to help the community.

He and ComEd have been under heavy criticism, including criticism from this paper, on their operation of the dam. Throughout the controversy, Callighan has maintained a great sense of humor and professionalism, but still won’t change the dam operating policies.

In a recent interview with this paper, Morrissey said the city is exploring the possibility of buying the dam for $1 from ComEd.

Morrissey said the possible purchase is tied to his overall plan of developing Rockford’s riverfront, with the goal of increasing revenue from properties that are currently generating little or no income for the City. He added he would also consider forming a City-owned electrical generating station that would obtain its energy from the dam.

“My commitment is that we’ll do our homework, and we’re going to lay out some opportunities for the long-term maintenance of the dam, and long-term accessibility to the riverfront,” Morrissey said.

At the Rock River Homeowners meeting, Callighan said ComEd spends about $55,000 a year in maintenance costs and pays $10,000 a year in property taxes.

Callighan rolled his eyes and said, “We’ll see,” when asked if ComEd would donate $25,000 a year to the City for maintenance and perhaps a naming opportunity, comparatively saving $40,000 a year for what it now spends.

Long said the River District and the Farr team are interfacing with the Hitchcock Design Group the city has retained for the river walk so efforts are not duplicated and the teamwork continues.

From the Oct. 26-Nov. 1, 2005, issue

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