By Paul Gorski
I’m not sure the Rockford Public Library (RPL) would be ideal manager and owner for the Sullivan Center (formerly the New American Theater), but I do know the center should be turned into the Rockford Community Center.
I have nothing against the RPL. I’m a big fan of libraries in general, and served briefly on the board of the Cherry Valley Library District. However, the RPL is sending mixed messages when it plans to move to digital books, close library branches, but expand into a theater complex.
While some are branding the Sullivan Center as simply a place for entertainment, it could be so much more. Belvidere has a gem of a facility, the Community Building Complex of Boone County (CBCBC), that serves as a theater, meeting hall, banquet facility and more. They hold small concerts, business meetings, community expos, and job fairs all throughout the year. It is a hub for activity in downtown Belvidere.
The City of Belvidere has shown its commitment to the facility by recently renovating the building, making it more productive than ever before. The Sullivan Center could be Rockford’s Community Complex of Winnebago County, or simply the Rockford Community Center (RCC).
While we do have a variety of facilities in downtown Rockford, we don’t have anything quite as multitasking as the CBCBC. I wouldn’t see the new RCC competing directly with other facilities, as it would be filling a niche not already filled.
As to management, one could make the argument that part of the RPL’s mission is education, communication and enlightenment. In that regard, the library could possibly be a good caretaker of the Sullivan Center. The RPL might consider an intergovernmental agreement with another district, like the Rockford Park District, to co-manage the facility.
I do think it is important to preserve the Sullivan Center and to expand its use, not only to bring more people downtown, but to give local community and business groups a place to meet and hold special events.
For more about the Community Building Complex of Boone County, visit http://communitybuildingcomplex.org/.
Paul Gorski is a Cherry Valley Township resident and a former Winnebago County Board member.
From the Aug. 8-14, 2012, issue