Public polled on new Amtrak station, old freight depot not in current plan
By Jim Hagerty
A building a local man wants to repurpose was not among those presented to the community Wednesday during a public input session about Rockford’s new Amtrak station.
About 100 people gathered at the Webbs Norman Center to offer their input about where the station should be sited in relation to the Ziock Building, at 416 S. Main St. Four sites were among those offered for public comment, except 514 S. Church St., the building deconstruction visionary Bill Howard wants to turn into the Amtrak depot using repurposed materials.
Howard’s plan is to deconstruct the west portion of the building and use the materials to transform the east portion into the train station.
Spokesmen from Friends of Ziock (FOZ), the group credited for spearheading the future $53 million high-rise hotel project, have a different idea. They say the Church Street building should be preserved and used for condos and retail space.
The City of Rockford is currently not leaning toward either plan. The city plans to raze the former Chicago and Northwestern freight depot, along with three buildings owned by S&L Warshawsky, Inc., and use the space for parking. The city is currently in negotiations with Warshawsky to purchase 431 S. Main St., 501 S. Main St., and 319 Cedar St. Aldermen voted last month to use eminent domain if a sale cannot be reached.
During Wednesday’s two-hour session, participants were surveyed about a dozen possible station designs, each showing different architectural styles. The survey also asked about demographics and amenities the depot could include.
“The idea tonight is to get high-level input about a station location,” City of Rockford Manager of Comprehensive Planning & Design David Sidney said. “It important to find out what the community wants to see. That’s what this open-house format is designed to do.”
While an Amtrak site will not be announced until after the public weighs in a second and possible-third time, leaders say the city is committed to build it downtown, along Union Pacific Railroad tracks near the Ziock Building.
Chicago-based Legat Architects has been awarded a $250,000 contract to design the station. A $10 million state subsidy will build it.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) announced this spring that a single train will begin running between Rockford and Chicago by next fall. The announcement sparked a plan to build a temporary station at 703 Seventh St. Although that plan has been ruled out, a temporary depot could be built elsewhere along the Union Pacific line if necessary.
The deal to use Union Pacific tracks replaces the one with Canadian National Railway that would have also brought a new Amtrak station to Genoa instead of the hub now planned in Belivdere. The agreement was scrapped when the state, Canadian National and Amtrak could not come to terms.
A future agreement with Canadian National would extend the Chicago-Rockford route to Dubuque, Iowa, something officials say could happen as early as 2016.
More information about the Amtrak station planning process is at Rockfordconnections.mindmixer.com.