River District names Heart of Rockford winners

River District Association announced the recipients of the 2009 Heart of Rockford Awards at a dinner and ceremony Thursday, Aug. 6, at the Lombardi Club.

This was the 23rd annual event that recognizes personal and financial investment in the heart of the city of Rockford. Since 1987, 198 awards have been handed out.

Kim Wheeler Johnsen, executive director of River District Association, said: “The awards program is important because it recognizes and rewards individuals and businesses that make an investment. It heightens awareness of what is happening downtown and validates the blood, sweat and tears that have gone into creating a new business, doing a renovation, producing an event, and preserving community assets. The Heart of Rockford Awards is an event that inspires others and instills courage to those who have a vision to pursue their own dreams.”

Following is a list of winners by category:

New Business—Noah’s Ark Animal Hospital: In 2008, Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary at 111 N. First St. expanded their mission with the opening of a new business, Noah’s Ark Animal Hospital, 125 S. Madison St. They invested thousands of dollars to open the veterinarian hospital and did renovations to the existing building. Services include small animal medicine and surgery, ultrasound, veterinary massage, physical rehabilitation, and small animal reproduction.

Commitment by a Business—Adams Letter Services and Magnum Creative: Scott Saporiti devotes countless hours to the pursuit of a better city, a better River District and a better downtown. He actively supports causes and organizations that support education, arts, culture, environment and health in our city. And he also brings his businesses, Magnum Creative and Adams Letter Services, into many of his efforts to help. Some of the organizations and efforts he has been involved in are Rockford Art Museum, Rockford Area Arts Council, Year of Innovation, No Idle Zone, Rockford Public Schools, Rockford (Youth) Chess Federation, Alzheimer’s Unforgettable Art and River District Association. It’s hard to separate Scott from his two businesses.

Commitment by an Individual—George “Doc” Slafkosky and Jerry Kortman: George “Doc” Slafkosky and Jerry Kortman have been committed to downtown for 23 years. At a time when downtown more closely resembled a ghost town, Doc and Jerry became stalwarts for downtown. Both firmly believe in the preservation and re-use of downtown’s commercial and residential buildings, which is seen in their purchase and renovation of their own building, designed by renowned local architect Jesse Barloga, at 107 N. Main St. They helped in the effort to save the former Paragon building, which resulted in the entire block being named a historic landmark. And they are not afraid to voice their opinion about projects that do not further revitalization efforts for the area. They have worked with other businesses and organizations to make positive changes for downtown over the years, and have supported the arts downtown on an ongoing basis.

Commercial Renovation/New Construction—GrahamSpencer Office Building Remodeling: GrahamSpencer was founded in 1987. In 2008, they purchased the mid-century International Style building at 333 Locust. The firm retained the services of SaavedraGehlhausen Architects to help it envision and produce a design that would make the most of the building’s available square footage, while remaining true to its international roots. The building had been subdivided into many very small offices over the years, and was dark and oppressive. GrahamSpencer wanted to open up the space, let in the light, and provide a welcoming place in which to do creative work. GrahamSpencer is an award-winning strategic communications firm with offices in Rockford and Ridgway, Colo. The company provides research, brand strategy, graphic design, Web development, advertising, public relations, event management, media placement and other marketing services.

Residential Renovation/New Construction (two recipients)—Bliss Building Loft Renovation and Lantow Lofts:

Bliss Building

The Bliss Building is an original Rockford live-work space. Hans Rupert and Amy Young have completed a stunning transformation that returns the Bliss to its roots as a live-work space. They have a growing family with two young children and a professional photo studio, noir, occupying the sleek, stylish, Nordic-Modern interior. Some of the words used to describe the project include inspired décor, abundant daylight, cool shade, distinguished surface, superior performance, serenity now, slide-ways, stack and spin, innovative design, fine lines, and there’s even room for child’s play. Hans and Amy are proud to return this building to its well-deserved place on Rockford’s historical and cultural map. Their live-work renovation re-engages the Bliss Building’s legacy as a cultural asset to the Rockford community.

Lantow Lofts

Lantow Lofts are probably the “greenest” residential units in the northern Illinois/southern Wisconsin area. The lofts boast 12-foot ceilings, expansive 8-foot tall windows, and the highest-quality doors and wood trim. Many units have fireplaces, exposed brick walls, beamed ceilings and lots of natural light. Ten solar panels pre-heat water so effectively that the in-line water heaters are usually unneeded throughout most of the year. Other amenities include extreme sound and thermal insulation, a 5,000-square-foot garden deck, garage, remote, entry intercoms, Katie’s Cup restaurant on the first floor, and meeting and storage space.

Festival/Event—Light the Night (Leukemia & Lymphoma Society): Since 2003, Light the Night has brought more than 1,000 people to the River District each year to participate in the walk and related activities to raise money and awareness to fight leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma. Light the Night is a fun event for people of all ages. Participants carry balloons along the walk, and enjoy food and live entertainment. Light the Night is a nationwide walk to celebrate and commemorate the lives touched by cancer. The event begins with a party in Davis Park. The walk route follows the Rock River north to Beattie Park and returns to Davis Park for live entertainment and celebration.

Historic Preservation—The Emerson House by Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center: The historic 1912 home at 420 N. Main St. was purchased by Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center in 2005 and renovations were completed in 2008 with care to restore the historic integrity of the building. It was the first location for Keith Country Day School, which opened in their basement in 1916. A chalkboard and child-sized hooks can still be seen in the lower level. Kurt and Sarah Bell, specialists in historic home renovation, have done a superb job in bringing the home back to life, updating and adding modern amenities while ensuring the integrity of the original design, décor and structure. With its unique architecture, seven grand fireplaces and stunning windows, the Emerson House is a beautiful venue for concerts and gallery events.

Youth Service Award—Brian Peterson: This was a special award presented that was created by the Heart of Rockford Awards Jury because they wanted to reward and recognize a young person who worked on a special project that educated young people about historic preservation while at the same time providing an experience in leadership and project coordination.

In 2008, 85 of the 200 historic chairs in the balcony of Veterans Memorial Hall were restored and reinstalled. These chairs are unique in their design: with a swivel pedestal, they provide a fast exit in case of a fire or other emergency. These unique interior fixtures also have a place on each back to hang guests’ wraps or hats. The chairs were removed, sanded and refinished to their original luster. The work on the chairs was done by a Boy Scout working toward his Eagle Award. This project furthered the scout’s awareness of historic preservation issues while engaging future scouts and youth leaders in additional volunteer projects here at the site. Many features of the site require attention, and Winnebago County is committed to preserving this site for future generations.

Best of Heart of Rockford Award—Garrison School Lofts: Garrison Elementary School was built in 1887 in the Queen Anne architectural style and is the oldest school building still standing in the city. After years of neglect, the Morrissey family purchased the building and surrounding properties with the vision to make the area a unique integrated community that would serve as an attractive anchor and catalyst to stimulate renewed pride and investment in a broader surrounding area. A highly gratifying result has been the positive change in attitude by the neighbors. Initially unsure of the result and perhaps fearing the worst, they now see significant improvement in their own property values. Back inside the once-again gorgeous old school, hugely-vaulted ceilings, expansive windows, spectacular lighting, stone countertops and window sills, exposed beams, open staircases, high-tech, eco-friendly insulation, central air and heat (95-plus efficiency), in-unit laundry, garage parking, and decks and patios give new meaning to the phrase, “back to school.”

from the Aug 12-18, 2009 issue

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