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River District funding hits council logjam
Posted By Staff On April 21, 2010 @ 6:00 am In Online Exclusives | No Comments
• News and notes from the April 19 Rockford City Council meeting
By Stuart R. Wahlin
By the narrowest of margins, Rockford aldermen voted to send back to committee a report essentially recommending renewal of the City Council’s $40,000 annual allocation to the River District Association, which markets downtown attractions and economic development opportunities.
The 550-member association, formed in 1998, operates on a cash basis with no line of credit, and relies on member dues, grants, sponsorships and tax increment financing (TIF) funds from the city each year. The group’s 2010 budget is approximately $100,000—about half of what the association had at its disposal just two years ago.
For years, the city has committed $20,000 each from its East Side and West Side TIF districts to support the cause, but some aldermen feel the $40,000 allowance is too much to ask for during poor economic conditions.
The issue was on the agenda for a vote April 12, but was laid over by a motion and a second. Sensing opposition in the air, River District Association members implored aldermen to approve the $40,000 funding April 19.
Amy Young, River District Association member and co-owner of the historic Bliss Building, 317 Mulberry St., argued in favor of full funding for the group.
“I think we all recognize that truly healthy cities require vibrant downtowns,” she began. “If this city council is really committed to the long-term best interest of Rockford, Ill., you will support efforts to strengthen the city core. To show your commitment to downtown vitality, you must support the River District Association. The River District Association is a cornerstone for all meaningful activity and publicity within our downtown.
“Of all the Rockford businesses…and not-for-profits I’ve had the pleasure of knowing, it is the River District Association that stands out as being eminently professional, consistently positive and tireless in its efforts to stretch each penny to a maximum potential,” Young argued. “It is an organization that acknowledges problems, but remains focused on solutions. The River District Association has earned its reputation as the go-to organization for anything and everything related to downtown Rockford.
“Local nonprofits already receiving financial support from this city council also recognize the River District Association’s value, and look to the River District Association to support their nonprofit fund-raising events—some of them city-wide events,” she added. “It seems to me, everyone sees the value of this organization. I’m here trying to uphold the honor and the positive professionalism exemplified by the River District Association, and to respectfully request that the City Council show its constituents that it can recognize what everyone else already sees.”
Chris Wachowiak, owner of Kryptonite, 308 W. State St., acknowledged having been a “boomerang” that moved away from Rockford, only to return later.
“I went to a local high school, and I wanted to get out like everybody else,” he explained. “I went away to school, and I didn’t want to come back to Rockford.”
But Wachowiak did come back, and he began working at Bacchus, predecessor of Brio, at 515 E. State St.
“It was when I got down there, I realized how much I really love this city,” he said. “I didn’t really know about the River District back then, but I know now.”
Wachowiak noted River District Association members talked him into building Kryptonite at its downtown location.
“It’s because of passionate River District members that I’m down there, and it’s because of passionate River District members that I’m still there,” he asserted. “I can actively see what River District does for our business and for businesses around.”
Wachowiak said he’s frequently approached by people from all parts of town who’ve read about his business through the River District Association’s Web site and newsletters.
“I don’t get that from the Chamber [of Commerce]. I don’t get that from other organizations I’m a part of,” he noted, indicating he does see results from his membership in the River District Association. “I think the River District enables you, supports you and encourages you, and I wanna see more of that.”
Wachowiak said the River District Association is a good way to encourage more passionate, young people to return to Rockford.
When the matter returned to the floor April 19, Ald. Ann Thompson-Kelly (D-7) moved to refer the report back to committee, citing a committee referral earlier in the evening by Ald. Bill Robertson (I-14) to re-examine the city’s funding for area business groups.
“We’re going to run into the same problem with other agencies,” Thompson-Kelly explained, noting her motion to send the report back to committee was “to review it for funding, and look at all the areas and how we’re funding organizations, seeing that the dollars are not there, that our TIFs are running negative.”
Thompson-Kelly was joined by aldermen Pat Curran (R-2), Carl Wasco (D-4), Venita Hervey (D-5), Lenny Jacobson (D-6), Bill Timm (R-9) and Linda McNeely (D-13) in successfully voting to send the matter back to committee for further review.
Disheartened River District Association members filed out of the gallery after the vote, but Ald. Timm later moved to reconsider the vote. Such a motion must be made by an alderman on the prevailing side in the previous vote, and Timm clearly intended to change his “aye” to a “no” when voting whether to send the report back to committee, which would have kept the matter before the full council for a vote.
His motion was defeated, however, by Curran, Wasco, Hervey, Jacobson, Thompson-Kelly and McNeely, with Robertson flipping his vote to prevent reconsideration.
The funding recommendation will now return to the council’s Planning and Development Committee for re-evaluation.
→ Approving an agreement with Stiltz Holdings, LLC, for the city to provide up to $176,000 on a pay-as-you-go basis from the River District North TIF District fund toward the redevelopment of a stilted building at 815 N. Church St., which has been vacant for nine years.
→ Objecting to a requested zoning map amendment before the Winnebago County Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) to re-zone agricultural land at 7725 and 7753 W. State St. from agricultural to industrial use. The ZBA will take up the matter during its May 12 meeting.
→ Approving the cost-of-living adjustment for Head Start to be used instead to offset increased health insurance and pension costs for 2010.
→ Awarding a non-competitive contract to ComEd for the first phase of relocation of overhead utilities along West State Street, between Kent Creek and Independence Avenue, for an estimated $15,000.
Dennis Olson was appointed to a five-year term on the Zoning Board of Appeals, expiring June 2015.
Paul Cicero was appointed to replace Peter Provenzano on the Airport Authority Board. His five-year term expires June 2015.
George A. Zawislak was reappointed to a five-year term on the Traffic Commission, expiring May 2015.
Prophet Yusef argued residents of public housing are not to be looked down upon, noting a number of prominent national figures, including former President Jimmy Carter, once relied on public housing. He stressed that public housing should not be a final destination, but a stepping stone for financially-challenged individuals and families.
Keith Creek Neighborhood Association President Mike Brackett thanked the mayor and aldermen for bringing attention to his neighborhood’s plight in Springfield. Gov. Pat Quinn (D) recently delivered a check for more than $1 million toward flood relief in the area, indicating a federal match for $3 million would soon follow. The city will use the funds to demolish now-vacant homes it purchased as part of a buyout plan after the 2006 and 2007 floods. City leaders are hopeful for additional grants to complete the demolition of 112 homes, and to perform drainage improvements along the Keith Creek floodplain, as part of an ambitious $31 million project that would ultimately replace the homes with green space and a recreational path.
The week of April 18 was proclaimed World Trade Week. The week of April 19 was proclaimed Inclusive Communities Week. April 20 was proclaimed Equal Pay Day. The week of May 3 was proclaimed Juror Appreciation Week.
Aldermen convened in closed session to discuss pending litigation.
Ald. Joe Sosnowski (R-1) was absent.
From the April 21-27, 2010 issue
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