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Development next to new library heads back out for bid

ROCKFORD – The bidding process for the property next to the future downtown library will be reopened.

A five-member committee comprised of library and city officials will review responses to a request for proposal (RFP) before they are presented to the library board and City Council.

The Rockford Public Library Board of Trustees issued a request for qualifications (RFQ) last spring but only got one response from Iowa-based Bush Construction to build a mixed-used building at 227 N. Wyman St.

Two local developers told TRRT they were not aware the property was going to be redeveloped after the library announced in 2016 it would be torn down to make way for the new library. Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara said while he commends an out-of-town company for seeing value in Rockford, local companies should have been given ample opportunity to submit responses.

But, some say the problem was not that an out-of-town company was the sole respondent, it was what was in Bush’s proposal that left local developers scratching their heads.

According to Bush’s response to the RFQ, which is different than a request for proposal, or RFP, there was one local company in the loop, Gary W. Anderson Architects, which was offered a contract for $1.1 million to design the new library. It was also questioned why library officials did not reach out to local developers, including those based just blocks away, before the RFQ was issued.

Rockford Public Library Executive Director Lynn Stainbrook said she reached out for help about the bidding process from Beloit’s Hendricks Holding Co., her nephew’s employer. She said she was advised by Henricks to issue an RFQ instead of an RFP because an RFQ gives a developer more options. She maintains that the process was transparent and not meant to squeeze out local players.

“It didn’t appear that anyone was interested, so I was not surprised that nobody put in a response to the RFQ,” she said. “And it didn’t occur to me to say anything to them. Isn’t that part of their job?”

Regardless, McNamara says it makes sense for the city to come alongside the library to ensure the most suitable proposal is accepted.

“City Council and our staff have quite a bit of experience reviewing request for proposals,” the mayor said. “And the library should have input. That’s why they bought the property.”

The library bought long-vacant 227 N. Wyman St. in 2017 for $300,000. The previous owner got it for $76,000 from a bank in Marengo.

“We bought the building so we could control who are neighbors would be,” Stainbrook said.

It was announced in 2016 that that building would be demolished, and the property used for a staging area for environmental cleanup under the existing library. Plans for a new development were not part of that announcement. Now, Bush is looking to erect a 90-unit mixed-use apartment building.

Stainbrook said local developers have had more than a decade to make a run at the property to either tear it down or attempt to save it like the board initially planned. However, she said Bush determined it’s not structurally sound. The validity of that claim is not currently clear. Urban Equity Properties’ Justin Fern was in negotiations to buy the historic property in 2013 and redevelop it into riverfront lofts. He moved on when 3 Land Development nabbed it from Prairie Community Bank.

“The new committee will certainly be broader than the previous committee,” Third Ward Alderman Chad Tuneberg said. “The public will be appreciative that the process will be vetted where there will be no perceived questionability regarding all things with this development. The individuals on this committee should each be able to bring their own unique perspectives to the RFP process. I think Bush is qualified to do a development of this sort, as are our local companies. I appreciate that outside developers are looking at Rockford. Sometimes they can fill a gap where local developers may not see value or have any interest in taking on a certain project. Nevertheless, if our local developers are interested, they should be given a fair shot. If they are not interested, then let the project begin.”

The Rockford Public Library Board of Trustees meets the fourth Monday of every month at the Nordlof Center. R.


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