City mulls Amtrak options, public meeting set for Sept. 3

By Jim Hagerty
Staff Writer

Although a temporary Amtrak train station in the Midtown District has been scrapped, leaders are still eyeing 2015 as the year passenger rail returns to Rockford for the first time in three decades.

Last month, the city pulled plans to spend $8 million on a train station at 703 Seventh St. The station would have been used by Amtrak while the city built a permanent location on the west side of the Rock River. Now, a permanent station may be built at the corner of Cedar and South Main streets, across from the future $53 million Amerock hotel project.

Legat Architects, of Chicago, has been hired for $250,000 to site and design the facility, as it did on plans for a station near Tinker Swiss Cottage earlier this year. That station was nixed when the state couldn’t come to terms with Canadian National Railway. Had the deal worked out, Rockford would have been a stop on a Chicago-Dubuque, Iowa, run, and a new Amtrak hub would have been built in Genoa, Illinois. Instead, Belvidere, Illinois, will be a stop on the Chicago-Rockford run of tracks owned by Union Pacific.

A future deal with Canadian National could happen after 2015 to bring a Rockford through Freeport to Dubuque route.

If Legat finds favor at the corner of South Main and Cedar, Bill Howard says the buildings are ripe for a deconstruction project that would create an industry that has not yet caught on in Rockford.

Howard wants to re-purpose materials from the west end of the former Charles Joseph building at 514 S. Church St., and use them to redevelop the east portion into the Amtrak station.

East of 514 S. Church St. is a small building owned by the Holder Company and an old service station known as the Warshawsky “muffler graveyard.” The city is in negotiations with Warshawsky to purchase and raze all three of its buildings to accommodate the project.

This is an opportunity to create a deconstruction industry and employ people in jobs that have never been here before,” Howard said. “It also validates our opposition to prevent such materials from entering the landfill.”

Howard has already gotten the ball rolling — at least on the deconstruction end of the Charles Joseph building. His crews have been engaged by the previous owner as part of a settlement agreement when the city acquired the property. The trick now, he said, is to get leaders to re-purpose the property and materials to build the train station.

We want to use our ancestors’ materials to save our children’s trees,” Howard said. “And we need to do it. We are no longer a manufacturing society. Too much is being done with machines. But there is an industry with deconstruction. Just in Rockford alone, there are about 5,000 houses that need to come down. And we won’t make any progress by simply demolishing a hundred or so every year.”

The Illinois Department of Transportation has budgeted $10 million for the Cedar Street project; the City of Rockford is expected to kick in more than $5 million.

A public meeting about the new Amtrak site is scheduled for 4-7 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 3, at Rockford Park District headquarters, 401 S. Main St. Howard intends to propose the deconstruction project during that meeting.

We have spoken to Mr. Howard about this idea in the past,” Rockford City Administrator Jim Ryan said. “We are all for deconstruction, if it’s economical. We just haven’t seen a formal proposal yet.”

From the Aug. 20-26, 2014, issue

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