Guest Column: Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens groundbreaking a defining moment

The Nicholas family at the Aug. 4 Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens groundbreaking ceremony.

Tuesday, Aug. 4, there was an historic groundbreaking celebration for a project that comes along only once in 100 years, the Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens.

Every so often, a signature project comes along that visually defines the community in which it is placed and changes the way we view ourselves. St. Louis has the Gateway Arch, a representation of America’s gateway to the West. Milwaukee has the winged Museum of Art, Chicago the John Hancock Center skyscraper, San Francisco the Golden Gate bridge, and Seattle the Space Needle piercing the sky.

New York City has the Statue of Liberty, a welcoming beacon that changed the lives of immigrants coming to America’s gateway, where she continues to symbolize friendship, democracy and the hopes and dreams of a life lived in freedom.

The Statue of Liberty was a beautiful gift from the people of France, and one that changed the landscape of a community.

The Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens is also a gift, a wonderful present to our community filled with colorful and living tropical plants. It is a gift that will transform our riverfront landscape from a humble set of three growing greenhouses into a soaring glass landmark, for all who call the Rock River Valley their home.

Transformation sometimes comes along very slowly, almost imperceptibly, and then all of a sudden we look around and realize that change has happened…our community is a City of Gardens!

The Nicholas Conservatory is much more than a glass-and-brick building; it’s a new way of thinking about our community. It’s envisioned to be an architectural icon, and will be a source of inspiration and education for generations to come.

Once the conservatory building is completed and all the plants are installed and growing, the real program opportunities begin. This new conservatory offers many unique opportunities to learn—not only about the world of plants, but also about our interdependent relationship with them, and about complex issues such as climate change, and the practical applications for using renewable energy sources.

When the Rockford Park District Board of Commissioners considered a signature project for Sinnissippi Park five years ago, looking ahead to celebrating the Centennial year of the Rockford Park District, I doubt they could have known how very much our community would need a morale booster, a new way of seeing ourselves, a reinvention of Rockford.

I’d like to recognize the Board of Commissioners who served in 2004, and throughout this project planning season, for their commitment and ongoing support: Roberta Ingrassia, Dan Nicholas, Harris Agnew, Laura Pigatti Williamson, Charlotte Hackin, Nate Martin, Chuck Brown and Tyler Smith.

I’d also like to extend our heartfelt thanks to the entire Nicholas family, for their most generous lead gift and sustaining their enthusiastic support for this project during the past three years.

The Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens has the financial support of 964 donors participating at many levels. There are future phases to look forward to as funds become available to complete the vision of this vibrant riverfront destination.

I believe we will look back at this groundbreaking moment many years from now and realize it was a defining moment for our community to undergo a major transformation into a more beautiful city…a City of Gardens.

Douglas J. Brooks is president of the Rockford Park District Board of Commissioners.

from the Aug 12-18, 2009 issue

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