Future uncertain for Rockford’s Brewington Oaks public housing towers

By Ken DeCoster
Staff writer
Posted Jan 16, 2020 at 4:18 PM
Updated at 8:20 AM

Rockford Housing Authority still has no timetable for demolition

ROCKFORD — More than a year after the federal government gave the green light to raze the Brewington Oaks public housing complex on Seminary Street, the Rockford Housing Authority still has no firm timetable for demolition.

A special meeting will likely be scheduled in February to discuss potential redevelopment options, housing authority CEO Laura Snyder said.

“The potential options are to move forward with demolition and keep it as green space for right now until we come up with a redevelopment plan to either put affordable housing or a mix of affordable housing and maybe some low key commercial property,” Snyder said. “Or we could sell it so somebody else can redevelop it or partner with a developer to look at a completely different type of redevelopment.”

Private developers have expressed interest in redeveloping the 14-story twin apartment towers, Snyder said. The estimated cost of demolition is $3.9 million.

Mayor Tom McNamara said he could support the redevelopment of the property if a developer with a proven history of successful similar projects commits to it.

What McNamara doesn’t want is for Brewington Oaks to remain a blight on its neighborhood just southeast of downtown.

“I think they should do what’s best for RHA and the area,” McNamara said. “If you find someone who could redevelop it, has a track record of getting those kinds of projects done and it saves RHA money that they can use to assist their residents, it’s something I could potentially support.”

The housing authority received permission from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2018 to tear down Brewington Oaks, which provided housing for elderly and disabled residents from 1969 until last year, when the last of the tenants moved out. Residents were relocated to other housing after RHA administrators determined renovating the apartment buildings would be too costly.

The bulidings were originally named Campus Towers, a nod to the neighborhood, which was the former site of Rockford University.

Brewington Oaks has been an albatross for years, said Lois Ginter, director of development for the Orchid Neighborhood Association.

“It’s like a big scar in the sky when you look over there,” Ginter said, adding that she would “like to see it turned into a recreational area that ties in the riverfront that’s below there with the Fordam Dam area and make it a bluff that overlooks the Rock River.”

As for the possibility of new housing being built on the Brewington Oaks site?

“I’d love a private developer to come in there, but I think people are going to be cautious coming into this neighborhood,” Ginter said. “There’s so many other infrastructure issues that have to happen before somebody would feel comfortable putting that kind of money in there. We have too many vacant properties that ring that location.”

The housing authority hired Hilco Real Estate to appraise the property’s real estate value last year. Commissioners will discuss the results of the appraisal, which is not yet complete, before deciding the fate of the vacant buildings.

Jef Kolkey contributed to this report.

Ken DeCoster: 815-987-1391; kdecoster@rrstar.com; @DeCosterKen

Original story here