Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Rockford alderman deny partnership with RHA, reject chance of federal funding


By Kelsie Passolt

An effort to tear down one section of public housing in Rockford stops dead in its tracks. Many city council members say that’s because they don’t believe the initiative will result in real change.

On the line Tuesday night was a partnership between the City of Rockford and Rockford Housing Authority to apply for $28 million in federal grant funding. According to RHA, a portion of that money, from Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, would pay to tear down Fairgrounds Valley, which is in Rockford’s Ellis Heights neighborhood west of downtown. Tearing down the structure is part of RHA’s Transformation Plan in Ellis Heights. RHA says Fairgrounds, home to more than 200 apartment units, could’ve possibly been replaced with 60 homes for mixed-income families, by using a portion of that grant funding. But, many aldermen raised concerns. 5th Ward Alderman Venita Hervey says Rockford’s been plagued by what are reportedly empty promises from HUD when it comes to public housing improvements. Council members also do not believe the Transformation Plan, as it’s written, will de-densify poverty in Rockford.

“I believe what it does is keep poverty concentrated in one part of the city, while at the same time, spreading it out over a larger area,” Hervey says.

Only two aldermen supported the partnership with RHA out of the ten present. 6th Ward Alderman Marcus Hill says he thinks denying the collaboration will result in a missed opportunity.

RHA says what this vote of disapproval means is it can’t apply for the funding from HUD, but, it’s still looking at options. CEO Ron Clewer has released a statement to 13 News on Tuesday night’s outcome.

“This decision clearly shows a level of distrust between the City and Rockford Housing Authority. I’m disappointed aldermen make decisions on housing without understanding the market or platform of housing for residents in Rockford. We’re not talking about building public housing, but removing antiquated public housing and replacing it with high-quality, well-funded, sustainable, affordable housing. I’m hopeful that aldermen will explain to residents and community members why they could not support a plan these committed members worked more than two years for.”

1st Ward Alderman Tim Durkee says this partnership denial doesn’t stem from distrust of RHA, but distrust of the federal government.

Also on the agenda Tuesday night, the proposal to redevelop 134 North Main Street in Rockford. It was laid over. Development group Joseph James, which is now the only developer bidding on the property, wants to turn it into a 5-level, 75-room boutique hotel with a restaurant on the first floor.

The 2015-2019 Capital Improvement Plan passes unanimously on one condition. Aldermen voted to amend the plan, including a statement saying that, if surplus revenue is ever available in the CIP, up to $300,000 could be split evenly to repair neighborhood streets in the three wards with the worst road conditions.

Alpine Bank plans to open its first-ever branch in west Rockford. A proposal received unanimous support from aldermen Tuesday night to allow an Alpine Bank to be built near North Main Street and Auburn Street. Joseph James is the developer in this deal. Its proposal also calls for a neighborhood outdoor market to utilize the parking lot west of Der Rathskeller restaurant as its location.

A Rockford-based contractor is in charge of development of the Ingersoll Downtown Sports Complex at 301 S. Water Street. Stenstrom has been awarded the project after aldermen supported the measure Monday. It will receive nearly $14 million to construct the ins and outs of the Ingersoll building, plus create an outdoor Riverpath.

Additionally, all Rockford establishments that serve and sell liquor must only allow employees to handle alcohol if they’ve received state-certified BASSET training. Aldermen say employers have roughly four months to get their staff trained.

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