Response: ‘It’s hard to argue with the truth’

From Friends of Ziock (FOZ)

In his response (Apr. 1 issue) to the FOZ update (Mar. 25 issue) City Administrator Jim Ryan commended FOZ and touted City efforts in support of historic preservation initiatives.  To the casual reader, this sounds collaborative and positive.

Most surprising was the lack of specificity with respect to the deluge of facts (with names and dates) included in the FOZ update.  It is hard to argue with the truth, which paints a less-than-idyllic picture of the working relationship between the administration and FOZ.

FOZ does agree that Rockford is a leader in efforts to restore designated properties using federal and state Historic Tax Credits (HTCs).  FOZ has always been clear that the City administration deserves credit for their contribution to passage of this enabling legislation, along with Landmarks Illinois and AIA (American Institute of Architects) Illinois.  The drive towards restoration is fixed on the expiration date for the current state law, Dec. 31 2016.

Legislation, however, is not development.  The credit for Rockford leadership in the redevelopment of historic buildings, goes to the private sector comprised of local developers (with special credit to Urban Equity Properties with many downtown properties and the Koch family which redeveloped the Prairie Street Brewhouse) as well as out-of-state developers and investors, including Gorman & Co.  With a stroke of luck and hard work, other regional developers /investors will join Gorman in the next 21 months before the expiration of the State HTC.  This work continues to be difficult, and not exclusively as a result of the expected challenges of historic preservation projects.  City administrators can be collaborators, creative problem solvers, marketers and partners – or not.

First, they must protect properties that qualify for HTCs. This is not a new problem here in Rockford.  Historically, we have taken down over 3 million square feet downtown in the past 60 years, with only seven private sector buildings (generating property tax revenue) erected during the same period. The City under this administration has continued to acquire such properties, as well as others with buildings in various states of disrepair.  When these structures deteriorate sufficiently, they are demolished.  The Tapco Building fell to the wrecking ball several years ago; luckily, the Ziock Building did not suffer the same fate.

Another example of this trajectory for historic properties is the Old Freight Depot on Cedar Street.  Interestingly, this building was selected during ‘charrettes’ with the public as the first choice location for the new train station.

The City acquired this building and several others under eminent domain, to assist with the redevelopment of the Ziock Building. This property was originally slated to provide parking for the nearby hotel and train depot.  With the prospect of a large parking ramp on the former Tapco site next door to Ziock, a Gorman representative shared with FOZ members that parking on the Depot site was not needed.

Last fall, FOZ members were alerted to the “deconstruction” of the Depot, designed and built in 1902 by the architect and general contractor that did the Nelson Hotel on South Main. After a phone call to Springfield, the City was enjoined from further demolition.

FOZ has completed research on the property, submitted a Preliminary Evaluation and received the approval of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IHPA) to submit an application for historic designation.  With the clock ticking on the State tax credit, this is critical to assure the expedited redevelopment of this Rockford landmark.

We leave to the readers’ judgement the quality of the partnership between FOZ and the City administration.

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