‘Twas the week before Christmas, and all through City Hall…

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11666426612721.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) blasted Ald. Linda McNeely (D-13) for implying too much emphasis was on the downtown area.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-116664269127433.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘Centre Events General Manager Corey Pearson and Board Chairman Gary Marzorati wait for the $23 million go-ahead.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-116664272012335.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘Ald. Doug Mark (R-3) agreed the whitewater park would be a regional attraction. He said of 150 e-mails and letters he’s received in support, only 10 were local.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11666427472739.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘Ald. Frank Beach (R-10) is all for MetroCentre renovations, but thinks buying a hockey team should be someone else’s business.’);

Dec. 18, just one week before Christmas, the Rockford City Council was taking no holiday from city business. After much last-minute rhetoric, downtown’s holidays are looking merrier.

Rockford’s Planning and Development Committee finally got the reassurance some aldermen were waiting for from Winnebago County. The committee unanimously agreed to recommend the approval of an intergovernmental agreement for MetroCentre renovations.

Aldermen Frank Beach (R-10) and Jeff Holt (D-11) have voted the last couple weeks to keep the matter in committee until the county could assure Rockford of its dedication to the 20-year commitment.

The committee also presented the full council with a recommendation to authorize $23 million in Alternative Revenue Bonds to cover MetroCentre improvements and fund the acquisition of an American Hockey League (AHL) franchise.

In committee, Beach argued to separate the $20 million for renovations from the $3 million to buy an AHL franchise. Beach said the city shouldn’t be involved in the purchase of a hockey team.

Ald. Victory Bell (D-5) voted with Ald. Dan Conness (D-14) to push the matter through to the full council.

Because Beach and Holt have stuck together in past weeks, the issue may well have stayed in committee had Holt been present. Christmas, however, came early for Jeff and wife Michelle, who were blessed with the birth of their son Noah, Dec. 16.

Although put before the full council, both MetroCentre issues were laid over.

Centre Events General Manager Corey Pearson will have to wait until after Christmas for the council’s votes, but said he wasn’t worried about waiting another week.

Pearson told reporters, “I think we can still stay well within our timeline of what we want to accomplish everything in.”

While the MetroCentre awaits the go-ahead for renovations, it’s also engaged in negotiations with IceHogs owners Craig Drecktrah and Dr. Kris Tumilowicz.

“We had two fruitful meetings last week,” Tumilowicz reported, adding another meeting had been scheduled for Dec. 20. “We’re hopeful that we’ll be able to reach some sort of an agreement or a settlement at that point.”

This holiday season, Tumilowicz and Drecktrah are wishing to keep their United Hockey League IceHogs in a renovated MetroCentre.

“That would be our first choice, but we’re not naïve,” Tumilowicz explained. “We know that the city and the MetroCentre want to own the team, whether it’s in the United Hockey League or in the American Hockey League.”

Tumilowicz added, “If that is their intention, then we hope that they’ll give us a fair purchase price.”

In other council business, aldermen dipped their toes into a possible whitewater park on the Rock River downtown. The council approved a $186,570 General Fund transfer for a feasibility study exploring the technical viability of such a venture.

An assessment of the Fordam Dam’s condition is of primary interest. The city would buy the dam from ComEd if the park were to move ahead, or ComEd could donate the dam, which has been noted as a possibility in the past.

As previously reported in this paper, 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, 2005: “We will donate the dam to a responsible governmental body. It’s a standing offer with no restrictions.”

The article added: “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.”

At that time, Callighan also noted maintaining the dam cost ComEd about $50,000 a year, but was not overly excited about donating that amount as well for a yearly subsidy to the city for maintenance.

“The viability of this dam would be the first part of that project,” Ald. Carl Wasco (D-4) said, adding this part of the study will cost only $35,000 to $40,000.

Ald. Holt recently wrote a letter to ComEd, asking them to fund the study since the company stands to benefit from the city taking the dam off its hands.

Before the vote, Ald. Bell pledged his support, arguing the importance of the independent study, in the interest of spending tax dollars wisely down the road.

In the end, the council decided to hire its own consultant, rather than trust someone else’s.

“If you’re buying a home, and you’re concerned about termites, you want your own termite inspector to take a look at it,” Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) explained. “In this case, we want our own inspection team taking a look at that dam.”

Ald. Lenny Jacobson (D-6) said the City Council will be briefed every 30 days and can pull the plug on the study at any time.

Ald. Doug Mark (R-3) discussed the potential for a great return on investment, adding the whitewater park would have a large draw regionally. Mark said he’d received about 150 e-mails and letters in support of the potential whitewater park.

“Probably 10 of the 150 were from Rockford. The other 140 were from outside,” Mark reported, “commending the City of Rockford and all the aldermen in the council for making something like this possible.”

Speaking to The Rock River Times Editor & Publisher Frank Schier, Chicago canoe and kayak enthusiasts have stressed how they would definitely come to Rockford quite frequently if Rockford created a year-round facility for their sport. Schier also notes we are not out of the running for at least being a practice area for the Olympics, if such a facility were built.

During public participation, David Preece and Chris Wachowiak also praised the City Council for considering the possibility.

Preece, who is president of the Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, noted the potential for including the Ingersoll building to make the park a year-round attraction.

“That might include climbing walls, bike tracks, a half-pipe course and even some indoor whitewater activities,” Preece suggested. “The growing national popularity of these sports among all age groups of active people is evidence of how this indoor venue could be a logical companion to the outdoor facilities.”

Wachowiak, owner of Krypto Music Lounge, cited the exponential growth of extreme sports in the last several years.

“There are emerging markets there, and this is the chance to be the first to be something again,” Wachowiak urged. “For once, keep up the good work.”

Not everyone was crazy about the idea of spending nearly $187,000 on another uncertain downtown project.

“I don’t want to be appearing negative, but we’ve got some bread-and-butter, bottom line, everyday things that we’re looking for funds for,” argued Beach, who then turned his attention to Jacobson. “I’d like to have somebody give me a plan on how we’re gonna fund what took out part of your ward.”

Beach was, of course, referring to the numerous victims of the Labor Day flood, many of whom are still without electricity, heat, hot water or cannot return to their homes at all.

Ald. Linda McNeely (D-13) couldn’t agree with Beach more and feels that downtown is having an awfully merry Christmas this year, while other parts of the city are not.

McNeely pointed out the MetroCentre’s pending renovations in addition to the possibility of the city stepping in to keep the New American Theater occupied after its immediate closure was announced Dec.15. Mayor Morrissey also handed out the Rockford Riverwalk Vision Plan and 2007 Budget to aldermen before the meeting.

“Surely, people in the downtown area must feel like Christmas has come,” McNeely told Morrissey, suggesting there is too much emphasis on the area. “I believe that the city taxpayers are looking for sub-contractors or contractors to be able to plow their side streets.”

“I agree that we all would like downtown to be nice and inviting,” McNeely continued, “But I don’t see

that happening in all parts of the city.”

Beach and McNeely agreed some numbers should be presented to the council on paper before any further study should be considered.

The matter passed with only Ald. Ann Thompson (D-7), Beach and McNeely voting no.

The mayor took a moment to address McNeely’s implication that money was only being spent downtown. Morrissey blasted the 13th Ward Democrat by listing numerous west-side projects, such as the Weed and Seed program.

Ald. Thompson jumped to McNeely’s defense shortly after the mayor’s response.

“If it seems that we are impatient,” Thompson explained to Morrissey, “it’s because we have waited. We have done without. We have been ignored in the past.”

Thompson did acknowledge the mayor’s involvement in areas of the southwest side, but said she has high expectations.

“That is the one thing that I am gonna hold this administration and department heads to,” Thompson vowed, quoting Morrissey’s own vision, “excellence everywhere.”

“When you look at the last two years of proposals and dollars being spent,” said McNeely, who took the floor again to fire back at Morrissey, “it doesn’t appear that due diligence has been given to the 13th Ward.”

McNeely also took a moment to blast Rockford Public School District 205 Superintendent Dr. Dennis Thompson for his remark in the Rockford Register Star regarding past discrimination in Rockford schools. Thompson was quoted as saying, “…it’s time to get over it.”

“When it was your kid that didn’t get educated, when it was your kid that wasn’t able to pass the necessary tests to go forward to college,” McNeely argued, “when it was your kid that you had to spend thousands of dollars on to various tutoring services to bring your kid up to level so that your kid could compete in college, then you don’t get over it.”

The council awarded a $1,399,031.21 contract to Rockford Blacktop Construction for the West State Crossover.

A $59,113.05 contract was awarded to Missman, Stanley & Associates for Harrison Avenue lighting and landscaping design engineering.

Ald. Mark suggested the city and county come to a consensus regarding the enforcement of property standards.

Ald. Beach thanked Alpine Bank for replacing the three stolen red collection kettles, each filled with $500.

Ald. Jacobson thanked the Bodman Foundation for a $3,000 check donated to the Salvation Army’s fund for Rockford flood victims, who are not completely forgotten this holiday season.

“I haven’t a clue what’s gonna happen with FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency]. I’d like to say that I really don’t care,” Jacobson said, “But I really do care.”

Morrissey said he hoped to hear from FEMA this week.

From the Dec. 20-26, 2006, issue

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