Park District food plan smart, city-oriented

RPD’s bid to bring local food into its facilities should be a model for others to follow

By Shane Nicholson
Managing Editor

Think about the fare on offer at your typical Rockford Park District function. Left underwhelmed by the stock concessions vendor options? Thankfully, RPD agrees.

The district announced last week that it would begin accepting bids on two locations at RPD properties: the Skybox at Sportscore II’s Indoor Sports Centers, and at the still under-construction SportsCore Downtown.

“In 2014, the Indoor Sports Center, along with our Sportscore Complexes, were the top visited sites in Rockford, meaning millions of people frequent these two locations all year long. We are looking for a restaurateur who will complement our world-class facilities and enhance these top sports tourism sites by providing a distinctive menu, amazing ambiance, and first-rate customer service,” said Jessica Steinberg, RPD’s Senior Manager of Operations, in a statement last week.

And it’s true. These locations attract loads of out-of-town parents having to entertain kids between games, trying to decide between a third hot dog or a second order of nachos to hold them over until they get back to the familiar options near the East State Street hotel strip.

But suppose they could partake of some selections from local establishments. Suppose they enjoy their grub from Locally Owned Sitdown X. One could imagine they would find time to visit their meal provider’s main facility, or perhaps venture out to some more of Rockford’s homegrown eateries and forgo the chains nearer their weekend resting point.

A trend has been seen across the country in recent years as sitdown-style mid-market restaurants (your Chili’s or Texas Roadhouse stylings) have reeled in their numbers as patrons find more reasons to embrace the local movement, even if they’re not locals to the area. The net result is a boon for the communities that, like Rockford, have seen local entrepreneurs and restaurateurs respond: more local jobs, more tax revenue, more money kept in the area instead of being moved on to a corporate ownership group housed in a Delaware entity.

Now we have a local body of government taking up the flag as well. It’s a welcome sign of progress for the Rockford area, that the Park District views the prospects of a local vendor being more appealing to its wide range of patrons.

Sources tell The Rock River Times that the groups behind the Prairie Street Brewhouse and the Giovanni’s family of restaurants are at the top of the heap in a bidding process set to close Sept. 15. Both would be a massive step up for the Park District, and give visiting parents a better taste of what’s available in Rockford than any concession stand could.

RPD should be applauded for this simple, progressive solution, one that will benefit not only its own facilities but also the local business community. Give people in Rockford for just a couple of days at a time more reason to spend money that stays in Rockford when they get back on I-90 and head home.

These types of decisions are the small ones a city can embrace that pay dividends across multiple city industries. Show people what one local industry can offer and they’re likely to entertain more, whether it’s local shops, music outlets or other entertainment options.

Well done to the Park District for providing such another outlet for local businesses to thrive. And well done to whatever teams win these bids–not only a mutually beneficial solution but a Rockford beneficial one, as well.

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