By Mike Leifheit
If I hear one more sanctimonious person say that the Coronado is going to save downtown, I am going to puke. Not that I am an opponent of the Coronado. I was for the rehabbing from the start. The renovation of the theater was its own reward; no excuse for downtown renewal was needed. The Coronado will be an inspiration to our children and our childrens children.
So why, you ask, am I so upset about the notion of it saving the River District? Well, for the simple reason that we dont need saving. This continued nonsense that there is something wrong with our central city is bunk. The older part of this city is the only part worth living in.
Sorry, but I am not a fan of sanitized east Rockford. I dont like cheap wallboard construction, neighbors that dont know each other and bad chain restaurants that all serve the same mediocre pap. I dont care for Showplace 16 at all, and my idea of Hell is to spend the afternoon in a shopping mall buying a lot of poorly made crap I dont need.
To say that anything is going to save downtown denies its viability and vitality, and denigrates what so many have done. From Carl and Iggy Seminario at Little Italy to Sammy Pirello, who opened Sammys Restaurant, from Chad and Michelle at Bacchus to Dan and Michelle at Octane. Or how about Doc and Jerry at J.R. Kortmans? What about Vito at Capri Pizza or Jim Columbi at C.J.s? These and others way too numerous to mention, saved downtown. They did it by themselves, without government help, often in spite of governmental interference. The Rock River Times has been elementally influential in all of this, getting its start and much of its energy from the River District and giving even more back.
Deb Newton said it well when she said we came down here for lifestyle, not to make a million bucks. We wanted a place we could live, and be who we are, a place where we could know our neighbors. An environment that was influenced by the glory of the past, yet had room for the future.
Yes, these and many others saved downtown. The downtown that had less than a dozen extant businesses between Third Street and the river. The downtown that had almost no operating businesses in the mall. The downtown that is now more rented and occupied than any mall within a 50-mile radius. That happened over a period of 20 years, and credit for that cannot be usurped by the Coronado.
In fact, quite the reverse is true. Because these people did what they did, it made it possible for the renovation to occur. Because hundreds of us kicked the hookers out of our neighborhood and chased the panhandlers off the sidewalks, because we sanitized it and made it cool. Because of this, the renovation of the Coronado happened.
We had changed the center city. We had made it the happening place to be. They wanted to be where we were, because of what we had accomplished. To say anything else is pure nonsense.
That is not to say that we are not glad to have the Coronado here. All of us are happy to have anyone share in our downtown renewal. You can tell that from the organizations we have formed, and the way we welcome newcomers to our party. We even let one of the Coronado people head up our River District organization.
Yes, we are glad to have the Coronado here, to be a part in the further enhancement of what is the finest area of Rockford. The additional business it generates will further our efforts. It will be a strong partner in the further advancement of our efforts, but it wont have to save us.
Mike Leifheit is the owner of the Irish Rose.