City bets Don Carter OTB will be a winner

August 19, 2009

News and notes from the Aug. 17 Rockford City Council meeting

By Stuart R. Wahlin

Staff Writer

Aug. 17, the Rockford City Council gave final approval to two agreements related to the renovation of Don Carter Lanes, 4007 E. State St., and the relocation of Trackside Rockford, an off-track betting (OTB) facility presently at 5011 E. State St., to the site.

The city’s agreement with Don Carter Lanes provides $430,000 over six years from the Miracle Mile Tax Increment Finance (TIF) District, plus another $50,000 from the TIF to help Don Carter Lanes make way for its new tenant.

The TIF assistance is intended to support a rehabilitation project at Don Carter, estimated at approximately $1.4 million.

Additionally, the city has agreed to a one-time rebate of $35,000 from its share of expected OTB revenues, which have been estimated at $140,000 for 2009.

Aug. 13, the Winnebago County Board approved a similar agreement to rebate $35,000 of the county’s share of horseracing receipts to help make the OTB’s move, and its survival, possible. Like the city, the county receives a 1 percent share of the gambling profits.

Dave Zenner, senior manager of communications for Arlington Park, which owns the OTB, indicated Trackside has been a part of Rockford since 1987, but that the OTB had planned to close.

“Local government was aware of our situation the whole time, and offered assistance and guidance throughout,” Zenner explained. “When it was obvious the business situation was untenable, we did formally notify the city and county that we could no longer remain in operation, and thanked them for the assistance provided, especially out of the mayor’s office, but that we would be ceasing operations during the fourth quarter.”

In addition to shares in gambling profits, Zenner noted, jobs, property and sales taxes would have left along with the OTB. But the new agreement is aimed to ensure the city and county retain them.

Arlington has been working closely with the bowling facility to integrate its horserace wagering operation at Don Carter, Zenner said.

“There will be a dedicated and controlled OTB area,” he noted, “as well as opportunity for Shooter’s [Bar & Grill] customers to wager in the bar areas.”

Zenner indicated the model has been successful in other Illinois communities, and promised the new betting systems at Don Carter will not only be state-of-the-art, but “the most advanced anywhere in the state.”

Budget and finance advisory group named

Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) named members of the city’s latest ad hoc committee, which will begin meeting in September to help the council find solutions to 2009 and 2010 budget challenges.

“This group will be charged with providing advice and support to the City Council as we go through and work to prepare our 2010 budget,” Morrissey said. “Obviously, if there’s issues as they come together that we’ll have to deal with for the 2009 budget, we’ll certainly hold open opportunities to get their thoughts on that. But right now, the real focus is the 2010 budget.”

John Holmstrom III, of William Charles Development, will serve as chairman of the advisory group.

“I appreciate the opportunity to participate on the mayor’s budgetary advisory group,” Holmstrom said in a press release. “Municipalities today face very difficult budgetary challenges as revenues decline, while the costs of essential public services do not. Between the city staff and the committee members, I hope we will be able to come up with some constructive ideas on how Rockford can manage the 2010 budget challenges.”

Other members include Scott Bowers, president and publisher of the local daily; Rockford Chamber of Commerce CEO Einar Forsman; Rockford Area Economic Development Council CEO Janyce Fadden; Smith Amundsen attorney Jeff Glass; DraftFCB Finance Director Phyllis Ginestra; AMCORE Bank Commercial Relationship Manager Vernon Hilton; Liebovich Bros. Corporate Controller Barb Jackson; The Workplace President LoRayne Logan; Hinshaw & Culbertson attorney Jim Pirages; First Rockford Group President Sunil Puri; Alpine Bank President Bill Roop; Williams Manny COO/Vice President of Finance Dan Ross; and Ted Ross, retired vice president of finance at Sundstrand.

“We’ve got a good group of volunteers from the community, experts in finance, experts in business, that we’ll be looking forward to working with,” Morrissey asserted.

Aldermen Pat Curran (R-2) and Bill Robertson (I-14) will serve as the council’s liaisons with the group.

City Administrator Jim Ryan, Finance Director Andres Sammul and Legal Director Patrick Hayes will also assist.

Ryan Brauns from Rockford Consulting & Brokerage, a city health insurance consultant and secretary of the Rockford Board of Election Commissions, will also take part in the meetings, as will the city’s auditing firm, Lauterback & Anen.

Committee reports

The council approved a report recommending the City of Rockford be designated a Recovery Zone.

City Administrator Jim Ryan explained: “Under the stimulus package of ARRA [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009], it gave municipalities, as well as county governments, the ability to bond. There’s two bonding types. One is Recovery Zone facility bonds. The other is Recovery Zone economic development bonds. Under one of the items, it’s available to private investors for tax credit purposes to the borrowers, or to the buyers of the bonds. The other element under the public facility bonds is it enables the city, or a county for that matter, to get 45 percent of the interest paid back to them over the life of the bond. These bonds we’re looking at for some of our economic development projects that we have throughout the city. And in order to issue those bonds, you have to designate the entire city a Recovery Zone.”

Rockford is one of eight Illinois cities to receive a direct allotment. Ryan noted Winnebago County would also receive the allotment.

Aldermen also approved a committee report to require homeowners to obtain permits for roofing projects. Previously, roofing permits were only required when a contractor performed the work. Aldermen Ann Thompson-Kelly (D-7) and Linda McNeely (D-13) voted “no.”

Resolution

Aldermen passed a resolution authorizing $1.2 million from motor fuel tax funds for maintenance of city streetlights.

Ordinance

The council agreed to partially reimburse Reload, Inc., and Watco Companies $60,100 for water main upgrades necessary for the companies’ new home at 1501 Baxter Road. Reload, which operates hand-in-hand with Watco, relocated from Rockton, where it had been a tenant of what will now be Chemtool, Inc.’s headquarters.

Appointments, re-appointment

Gary Caruana was re-appointed to a three-year term, expiring June 2012, on the Board of Fire and Police Commission.

Domenic Alfano was appointed to fill an unexpired term on the Mechanical Board until June 2012. Alfano is replacing Winnebago County Board member Bob Hastings (D-13), who resigned from the Mechanical Board.

Charles Laskonis was appointed to a three-year term on the Electrical Commission, also expiring in 2012.

Ald. Linda McNeely (D-13) voted “no” to all three appointments.

Closed session

The council went into closed session to discuss collective bargaining, as well as salary schedules for non-union employees.

From the Aug. 19-25, 2009 issue

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