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Arts & Cultural Overlay District nears final approval
• News and notes from the Aug. 24 Rockford City Council meeting
By Stuart R. Wahlin
The Rockford City Council passed a committee report Aug. 24 recommending approval of zoning map and text amendments to reflect an arts and cultural district in and around downtown.
Among other things, the district would ease restrictions on home businesses, creating opportunities for live-work space in the downtown area, especially for artists from any number of disciplines.
By attracting creative ventures downtown, it is hoped artists will lead the way in giving the area a unique flavor and identity, in turn attracting further investment.
The city’s definition of an artist is: “An individual who practices in the creation, manufacture, exposition, display, sale, teaching, instruction, or assemblage of all art in any forms and media, including persons engaged in culinary arts (except as would qualify as a restaurant), painters (excluding painting contractors), sculptors, authors, screenwriters, playwrights, film makers, dancers, potters, weavers, jewelers, exhibitors, printers, costumers, musicians, photographers, architects, engineers, designers, computer programmers, video game developers, and other similar or related uses as approved by the Zoning Officer; excluding any individual engaged or in practice of operating a Sexually Oriented Business(s) as defined within this ordinance.”
The overlay is meant to promote development and interest in the district by giving some leeway with the types of uses permitted, including signage, in areas that might not otherwise be zoned for such use.
Artists are particularly encouraged to bring their galleries and studios downtown, where they would be permitted to live where they work.
The council could vote on an ordinance for final approval of the overlay district as soon as Aug. 31.
Ald. Linda McNeely (D-13) voted “no.”
The council reversed a decision by the Zoning Board of Appeals, thereby granting a variation to reduce the minimum lot width from 70 to 68 feet at 2906 Reid Farm Road, a single-family residential district. With “no” votes cast by aldermen Doug Mark (R-3), Venita Hervey (D-5) and Ann Thompson-Kelly (D-7), the report lacked the required 10 affirmative votes to pass, until Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) cast the 10th “yes” to approve the variation.
TCI Concrete was awarded its $697,901.50 bid for Colorado Avenue resurfacing.
Northern Illinois Service was awarded its $320,386.90 bid for reconstruction of Alton Avenue and Barnum Road.
Schlichting & Sons Excavating was awarded its bid for the second phase of citywide alley reconstruction in the amount of $298,483.
AA Construction was awarded a bid for Market Street alley work in the amount of $49,999.99.
Aldermen approved an additional $602,662 to ComEd for overhead utility relocation along Kishwaukee Street, bringing ComEd’s project total to $1,185,446.
Viking Chemical, of Rockford, and Carus Chemicals, of Peru, Ill., were awarded bids for water treatment chemicals totaling $139,933.72 and $98,630.30, respectively.
Aldermen passed a resolution to call a public hearing and convene a joint review board to evaluate a proposed amendment to the Springfield Corners Redevelopment Project Area. The area would be amended to include the Renaissance Development, LLC, mixed-use project at West State Street and Springfield Avenue as part of the tax increment financing district.
Glen Patterson, a Rockford educator, asked the council to intervene by encouraging the Rock Valley College (RVC) Board of Trustees to reverse its decision to end RVC’s football program after 41 seasons.
“I am here to protest the terrible decision to shut down the Rock Valley College football program, because of the powerful ability of a football program to lead young men away from a life that is not productive for our community, and into a life that is productive for our community,” Patterson asserted.
“The problem is dehumanization of the African-American male, and African-American males are six times more likely to be involved in the criminal justice system,” he noted. “One out of every three African-American males 30 and under are either incarcerated, on parole or on probation. Another one out of three African-American males are either unemployed or underemployed.”
Patterson argued African-American males are not properly educated, and have been failed by the system.
“The facts are clear and irrefutable,” he added. “We are stuck in a pattern of social and academic low expectation for the African-American males.”
He explained young black males have pursued football as a means to stay out of trouble through athletics. Patterson noted he had played football for RVC three decades ago, while acknowledging his high school grades had been lackluster.
“That place gave me an opportunity to change my life,” he told the council. “I’m a testimony that we cannot give up on people. We can’t snatch away the opportunities, especially for African-American males. …What may seem like just a game to you is a life-saving jacket for these young men.”
RVC’s board, which Patterson noted is all white, voted unanimously in April to cut the program after this season.
Anthony Foreman, owner of JT’s Bourbon Street Grille, 1407 N. Main St., again asked aldermen to consider easing restrictions placed on his business after two shootings in a nearby parking lot last year.
City attorneys tightened the screws on Foreman after Bourbon Street was alleged to have been operating as a night club, instead of as a restaurant, as dictated by the establishment’s permitted use.
Banning the use of Bourbon Street’s dance floor was among the restrictions, prompting Foreman to recently ask the city to make one exception for a planned wedding reception at his restaurant. His request was not granted.
“I’m trying anything I can do to hang on to my business,” Foreman stated, arguing the restrictions imposed by the city are too harsh. “As a black entrepreneur, I will never realize my full potential in the City of Rockford.”
Comparing his experience of having owned a restaurant in Richmond, Va., before coming to Rockford, Foreman reported: “When I needed assistance from the city and the state, they went out of their way to help me. In this city, they looked down their noses at me.”
Foreman said he served in the Marines for 23 years to protect the liberties he feels he’s now being denied.
“If you continue to restrict me, I don’t know what it is I can do,” he added. “I just know I have to go to another city for me to realize my full potential, because I cannot realize that here.
“I had a dream,” Foreman concluded in a twist on words by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “I don’t have a dream no more. My dream is over.”
Flossie Hoarde urged the city to work with west-side residents who wanted to turn the former Church School, 1441 Blaisdell St., into a community center.
Progressive West Rockford Community Development Corp. purchased the property in 1997, but has been unable to attain the vision, or maintain the ailing property.
The city has begun foreclosure proceedings after the group refused to sell the property to Landwhite Developers, which plans to turn the site into a senior living center.
“Church School is a vision; a vision that many of us share in, that it could be a career learning center,” Hoarde said, adding neighbors aren’t thrilled about the idea of senior housing. “How can we expect ‘excellence everywhere’ until we get people to realize their potential? …Don’t look at the past, but look at excellence everywhere, and work with us as we try to fulfill the dream and the vision we have.
“Work with us to revitalize our community,” she pleaded. “Give our youth a chance to have a community center where they can go and have a positive atmosphere. Let us create jobs. Let us train. Let us stop the path of sending young men to prison.”
Aldermen Lenny Jacobson (D-6) and Bill Robertson (I-14) were absent.
from the Aug. 26-Sept. 1, 2009 issue