Thursday, May 15, 2014

By Brian Leaf
Rockford Register Star
Posted May. 15, 2014 @ 7:33 am
Updated May 15, 2014 at 4:03 PM

ROCKFORD — To raze or not to raze?

That question has crept into discussions about the future of Brewington Oaks, the 45-year-old twin public housing towers south of downtown.

The Rockford Housing Authority has hired Larson & Darby Group to determine whether the towers are still functional and worth modernizing.

If they aren’t, the authority could ask permission from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to tear down the buildings at College Avenue and Seminary Street and relocate Brewington Oaks residents. The towers provide housing for senior citizens and people with disabilities,

“The folks who are living there would be rehoused,” said RHA CEO Ron Clewer. “No one would end up without a roof over their head.”

Clewer told the RHA board last month that about one-third of the 418 apartments in the two towers are uninhabitable.

Clewer said that even if they were all usable, tenants would be hard to find because demand for units in the towers is low.

“There’s no market, and there’s no money to renovate,” he said.

Four years ago the housing authority wanted to renovate the 15-story towers, where nearly all of the apartments are one-bedroom. It applied for $11 million from HUD, part of a $50 million modernization plan that would have kept the towers but cut the number of units from 418 to 226.

The grant request was denied and the project died.

Now the authority is trying to determine whether the buildings meet HUD’s definition of functional obsolescence. If they do, they may be candidates for demolition.

But first, Larson & Darby will have to come up with solid figures for remodeling and replacement costs.

HUD says that if redevelopment costs exceed 62.5 percent of what it would cost to build the same property from scratch, the project is not cost-effective.

Clewer said RHA has estimated it would cost $83 million to build Brewington Oaks today, which means if the cost of renovation exceeds $52 million, it could be a candidate for demolition.

Clewer said RHA estimates renovation would cost more than $60 million.

When it was built, it cost $7.5 million to build both Brewington Oaks, known then as Campus Towers, and the 84 single-family apartments that became Jane Addams Village. The towers opened in 1969, after buildings were abandoned by Rockford College when it moved its campus to Rockford’s east side in 1964.

The Jane Addams apartments were razed in 2008 and the area was redeveloped as Jane’s Nobel Village, a 38-unit disabled supportive housing complex, at 502 Seminary St. It opened in 2013.

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