Editor’s note: The following letter by Joe Castrogiovanni, proprietor of Giovanni’s Restaurant & Convention Center, 610 N. Bell School Road, in Rockford, was submitted to Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) and Rockford City Council members. It is reprinted here as a guest column.
Dear Mr. Mayor and Council Members:
Remembering our history and recognizing that downtown Rockford was once a place of great happenings; where businesses thrived, restaurants flourished and our citizens safely gathered is truly important. Sharing memories of our bustling downtown as we reminisce with others is indeed necessary as we compare where we have been and likewise as we choose where we are going.
Believing, however, that downtown Rockford is now ready to be restored to its historical glory days is rather far-fetched. Thoughts of this nature have been revisited (and rescinded) time and time again over the last several decades. Although it is a wonderful goal to aspire to, nothing will succeed in the downtown area until our city’s violent crime rate can be reduced and contained.
Adding a hotel complex will not “transform Rockford.” It will not bring manufacturing or service jobs of any magnitude to the region, and it will not offer long-term sustainability. It will essentially waste millions and millions of dollars to transform part of a decrepit city block in a crime-ridden area.
Rather than jumping on the $50 million bandwagon to build a new complex, why doesn’t the city look to reinforce our police presence and reclaim law and order for our people? Instead of securing overseas sources of funding from individuals that have no true interest in our community, why not source and use money we have locally to invest in law enforcement personnel and the equipment they need to do their jobs safely and effectively? Perhaps, we should consider using our tax dollars to clean up our horrendous criminal reputation and make our community a safer place to live, work and play, before we worry about cleaning up and remodeling buildings that will not add value to our community.
No one would love to see increased tourism in Rockford more than business owners like myself; however, tourism will not come running if we don’t make Rockford a place where organizations feel safe enough to host their events and people feel safe enough to bring their families.
It is well recognized that our area could benefit from an additional sports complex to accommodate the needs of our community and bring sports-friendly families to the region, but is downtown really our best option? Certainly, there are other locations that would not only accommodate a new sports complex, but also prove more visitor friendly in regard to safety, proximity of existing facilities and cost-conscious amenities visitors are seeking.
Although Gorman & Co. was able to refurbish the old Pabst Brewery in Milwaukee into a beautiful hotel, conference center and the like, Rockford is not Milwaukee, and the Ziock/Amerock Building is not the former Pabst Brewery. Milwaukee is a city of low crime on the national scale, and they have a metropolitan population of more than 2 million people with eclectic restaurant, social, athletic and museum scenes. Rockford is off the charts in terms of crime, and we boast a metro population 75 percent less than that of Milwaukee.
Are we truly going to have the draw to keep this facility operational long after Gorman is gone, or will we then sell to other outside interests and watch this facility go the way of other resorts in our community? Furthermore, how is it possible that the diversion of tourism dollars to focus solely on this project will not detract from other areas where the money could be put to more effective use?
I urge you all to carefully consider the decisions you are making regarding the Ziock/Amerock Building and honestly evaluate if you feel this is the best use of the tax dollars our citizens and visitors work so very hard to earn. People deserve safety first. If we are unable to keep even our own citizens safe and engaged in our community activities, it is highly unlikely tourism will beat a path to Rockford.
Giovanni’s Restaurant & Convention Center
From the April 2-8, 2014 issue