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Soap Box Series—Part 3

July 1, 1993

Soap Box Series—Part 3

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Frank Schier: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Please be seated. Here we are on this fine June evening. I’m sure that your barbecue grills are waiting in the back yard. There was the airport marketing fund-raiser over at the new brewery in town. If you didn’t go, I hope you go to see him after our little engagement here. We certainly need support for any kind of marketing for our airport that we possibly can accrue. We need an airline. Let’s show them that we want one. (Applause)

Also, too, I’d really urge you if you have a business or a checkbook, which I think we all have one or the other in this room—sometimes they’re mutually exclusive, unfortunately … please do make a contribution to the Greater Rockford Airport Marketing Fund. You can speak to Jeff here, the man in blue, and he will take care of you if you would like to do so this evening.

Welcome to the Soap Box Series. The soap box is sometimes not available in the general media to folks who don’t have access to it, and accordingly, we know there are many lucid and thoughtful people, and we have sponsored this forum to give the common citizen a voice, to address issues of the day and issues of concern, and we are thankful that you all came. We have scheduled speakers, and for the two new speakers who signed up. Our speakers this evening, in order of appearance: Mr. Joe Morrissey, the long-time and well-honored barrister, counsel here in Rockford, Ill., father of the leading Larry Morrissey, and also an entrepreneur and fine citizen in his own right, a good friend to many folks.

Our second in appearance will be Amy Young. She is a co-owner of the Bliss Building with her husband Hans Rupert, and is active in the Block Amerock movement, and we are glad to have her as a new member of the downtown community. Another new member to appear third is Mr. John Smith. He just bought the Phenex Building, which is over here—you know, where the Palace used to roost, around the corner there, that strip of buildings with the nice awnings on them, on Mulberry—he’s the owner of that building. And it has market-rate housing available. So those are coming up, and please support him as well.

The fourth speaker is Mr. Jon Agusstson. He is the head of the Jane Addams, a 19th-century solutions to a 21st-century problems organization, and he has property over there by the old Rockford College campus, Haight Village there, a very interesting situation there. The fifth is Mr. Chris Winters, who says he wants to be introduced as just an average Rockfordian. We actually all are, anyway. The sixth is somebody, I think, who’s been extraordinary, along with Mr. Morrissey and Mr. Smith, and that is, these three gentlemen and him are developers downtown.

Chandler [Anderson], who has Icon properties and also is the owner of Bacchus, has done wonderful things for Haight Village and has done wonderful things for downtown. I am sure all of these folks as well as Chandler are going to have wonderful things to say.

As to the format: You will each receive five minutes. At the 30-second mark, you will hear the oven timer go off—we only have the highest technology. When you hear the oven timer, you will probably notice that I will stand up. And when the 30 seconds are up, I will approach you, and please hand the microphone over so we can get on to the next speaker. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Soap Box Series, and please welcome our first speaker, attorney Joseph Morrissey.

Joseph Morrissey: I don’t know that I need this thing. Can everybody hear me? And often I’m asked—or told—you don’t look like an attorney (laughs), and I don’t much care. Certainly, not like an attorney and developer, but our office was a zoo today. Larry agreed. We finally got a second to get in here tonight, but couldn’t get much work done at all today. In speaking to that, what are you going to talk about? What are you going to talk about? My God, you know, if I just had a moment to think, maybe I could come up with something. But on the way home at 12:30, I looked out my window this afternoon, and obviously, I’m going to talk about Rockford. And Rockford is the hometown of my wife, all of my kids, it’s my adopted hometown, and I love Rockford. And I’m going to talk about the heart of Rockford, which is the downtown, and specifically the riverfront.

I looked out the window. I think, we have a beautiful city. We have a beautiful city. And I’ve—(interrupted by applause) I’ve been doing research even before Larry came back to Rockford. I cut out clippings and whatever—I’m a newsaholic, as my grandkids tell me now, Pop, enough news, you know, but—I follow Frank’s and I follow the one Frank doesn’t think so much of, and I follow The Labor News, and—believe me, in this file folder I got another one a lot thicker. I’ve got a ton of research, which all of it proves, that it would prove to any reasonable person that the structure and program for the Amerock Building as presented to us at the last meeting here, as we discussed with the city fathers even before that meeting, it’s a remedy from disaster.

I’ve got an article in here just recently in USA Today, about a study performed by the Brookings Institution. There’s all kinds of information. In the ’60s and ’70s, the federal government thought the solution to caring for the poor and disadvantaged was to build these massive high rises, put them all together, and it would be easier to deliver the social services and so on. You know, not just near and handy, but throughout the country in that same article, that same study, it states that over 150 public housing projects have been demolished, bulldozed in just the last few years. I mentioned it to John McNamara. He said, “I know well.” And I remember. Valerie Percy was built after I built my house, and in a few years, you know … so many good people, so many. And what my real concern is, because some things have come to my family and to Larry; one is that the Morrisseys don’t care about the poor and the disadvantaged, we don’t care; and another is that, you know, like regarding the Amerock Building, that Larry’s trying to steal that away from the Milwaukee developer, at least a part of it, whatever. Neither of those are true.

I called our neighbor in the Luther Center, Kathy Horton, today, because some of the rumors came from there. She said, “No, I haven’t heard it.” She said, “We consider you good neighbors,” and so on. Now, that Luther Center is extremely well managed, I mean, Frank knows I helped someone get in there. Extremely well managed. The church, you know, is basically running the show, and that’s the only one in town I can think of that comes close, and all of their residents have to be 62 or older, and/or totally disabled, or whatever, and their income limits are much higher. You can have $31 to $2,000 a year and live there as a single person, whatever. The point being, this Amerock plan as it’s been presented, I mean, five years, 10 years, who knows? We would have to live with it for at least 15 years—and you know, I come from the farm, and I can remember when we stored apples in the fall, whatever, and if there was any question, is this a good apple?, my Dad would say, pitch it. The one bad apple destroys the whole barrel.

And that’s all you need, and look. Larry knows, Chandler knows, a lot of us know people who have moved out of some of the low-income housing, uh—I hate to call them projects—but out of the low-income housing sites because they’re afraid to live there, you know, whatever happens. And as far as us not caring about the poor, we represent more of the poor including the people out of the projects, and I come from, you know, Larry’s mother—her grandpa was an Italian immigrant, didn’t speak or write many—I mean, he didn’t read or write in any language—my Dad had a seventh grade education. So we know about, you know, poor and disadvantaged, and whatever. And there’s so much in here.

I’ve got quotes from our mayor, you know, about what we need to do, you know, after the trip to Chattanooga, whatever, and he is right. That was a beautiful—there were a lot of dreams, he gave at the Chamber of Commerce earlier this year. But again, that—what he said there is not what’s happening with this Amerock Building. Not at all. What he said there was, one of the things he said, we need to involve the public, the citizens. We need to see what they think about our ideas. And I think, early on, the River District people thought the Amerock project was going to be market-rate housing. And if it goes as planned now, we are at big risk, and I didn’t want to talk about that because that was the other concern—the Morrisseys are just interested in making money, you know, and probably we have risked more—I have. I’ve retired, Larry hadn’t come home. (laughter from audience) I know I have run out of time. But I’d better relinquish the mic. Goodbye. (Applause)

Frank Schier: Well, we’re all glad that Larry came home—to keep you going and also to get Larry here. And to reinforce, and to perhaps brag on Joe’s remarks. When low blows come in, it usually bespeaks of the character of those who speak them, and also, too, it usually bespeaks of their desperation that they see the massive opposition to this and are doing desperate things, and they’re doing things that are low, and such aspersions are very unfortunate. But in any case, our next speaker will be Ms. Amy Young.

Amy Young: Hi. I’m a fairly new member to the River District community. I sold my house in Machesney Park this past February in order to move downtown and make a full commitment to this area. And I have to say, I feel like I’m now truly living my dream. I belong to a community of visionaries, creators and intellectuals. And I am really grateful to be here. Recently, I became involved in an effort to block the current Amerock development proposal. And this issue afforded me the opportunity to meet and speak at length with many downtown area residents and business owners.

I think I have now seen the best and most encouraging aspects of the River District. Unfortunately, I have also made some very discouraging observations. The best are in this room right now, the lifeblood and backbone of the River District are the residents and independent business owners. Without their vision, persistence, and undying commitment, we would have no River District. (applause) For all of you, who have achieved so much for this area, I thank you. I’m truly honored to know you. I was, however, very discouraged to hear many of the same residents and business owners express concern and outrage over the Amerock development, only to follow those expressions with reluctance to speak out or get too involved. Time and again, I was told people fear retribution from City Hall, their leaders and representatives. I’m not sure if this threat is perceived or actual. But for a second, I thought it was pretty hopeless. And then it occurred to me, there are too many people who feel this way. If everybody who felt this way stood up together and refused to be bullied, something would have to change. If this is just perception, we are being controlled by our own insecurities and fears. If this is reality, something is gravely wrong with our city leadership, and we must work to change it.

So I say to everyone: Do not fall victim to your own fears. Stand up for yourselves. You will not be alone. And we cannot further a vision for a vibrant downtown if we are immobilized by fear and dominance. And I say to the leaders of our city and representative organizations, it is time to listen to the citizens of this community. I do not envy your positions, but you must not fall back on what has always been done for this area, that you know or what is familiar and easy. I beg you to put aside your personal agendas, step out of the box, and join these visionaries, creators and intellectuals in their efforts to establish a healthy, diverse downtown community. If you are not committed to our vision for a vibrant downtown, if you do not believe anyone would buy a $250,000 River District condo, and if you truly believe low- to moderate-income housing is the only answer for the Amerock Building, otherwise it’s an eyesore and should be torn down, then please reconsider your motivation and think strongly about stepping aside to allow someone with vision and persistence to move our area forward. Because if you do not see the beauty and potential of this area, you do not belong in a position of leadership, and you certainly do not represent the members of this community. Thank you. (Applause)

Frank Schier: Well said. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Mr. John Smith.

To be continued…

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