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East State upgrade with TIF explored

Monday, February 09, 2009  
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By Jeff Kolkey
RRSTAR.COM
Posted Feb 09, 2009 @ 10:23 PM

ROCKFORD — A special taxing district along a stretch of East State Street could attract new investment to what could be a faltering retail corridor and lead to improvement of the Rockford College campus, officials said Monday.

The Rockford City Council approved a measure allowing the city to accept bids from consulting companies to study whether a 1.5-mile stretch of State Street from Alpine to Mulford roads qualifies to become a tax increment financing district which provides incentives for private investment.

It is an area that includes Rockford College, OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center and plenty of retail businesses. But several of those businesses have either shuttered or are expected to soon close.

Mayor Larry Morrissey said this could be a first step toward revitalizing a distressed retail corridor and toward making Rockford College more of a centerpiece in the area.

“We have a lot of real challenges in that area,” Morrissey said. “From a retail standpoint, it’s not as competitive as it once was. And when we look at Rockford College — an isolated, beautiful area, a wonderful campus — we really have an opportunity to integrate it from basics like sidewalks and bike paths to improved lighting and opportunities for the campus to invite other partners in.”

Some city officials believe action is needed before the area turns into the image of urban decay most often associated with such districts that offer tax incentives for reinvestment.

TIFs are typically used to help municipalities clean up blighted and neglected areas. In a TIF, property taxes are frozen for 23 years. As property values increase, the increment between the frozen tax level and the increased property value is held in escrow and used to invest in infrastructure and improvements.

Officials said no potential projects are far enough along in planning to announce and that any potential effect on Rockford College would have to be approved by its administration and board.

In addition, the Rockford City Council will have to take a vote on whether to actually approve a study after bids are received.

Ald. Patrick Curran, R-2, said there are ideas about better tying Rockford College and Saint Anthony through streets and pathways, but it’s “conceptual stuff that you couldn’t hang your hat on just yet.”

“The trick is you have a number of vacant buildings in there that are about 30 years old,” Curran said. “The question is if it qualifies and, if so, does it make sense to do this? It’s not nearly as depressed as other areas of town. You have to ask yourself the question: Can it pull itself up by its own bootstraps or do you have to put a TIF in there?”

Staff writer Jeff Kolkey can be reached at jkolkey@rrstar.com or 815-987-1374.
In other business
Mayoral candidate Doug Block was critical of Mayor Larry Morrissey’s handling of a city financial crisis during a news conference before the Rockford City Council meeting Monday night.

“It’s time for the mayor ... to stop the bleeding, start addressing the deficit spending and making cuts in his own staff,” Block said. “He has increased staff quite a bit with positions that we didn’t have before and we need to take those positions and transfer them to other agencies with similar functions.”

Morrissey shot back that he has proposed $8 million in cuts to solve the city’s budget crisis. He said the proposals are a balance of services versus what the taxpayers can afford. He defended positions he has created, such as his director of education and lifelong learning which has helped to make truancy and charter schools central issues of a school reform debate in Rockford.

“This campaign will be about whether people are happy with us for taking on those issues whether it means having to battle and challenge at times the School District ... (and) the court system,” Morrissey said. “If people are happy with the old way where we sat back and didn’t engage, it’s probably time to get someone else in because I am not going to change my ways. We are going to continue to push for active and aggressive management and transparency in government.”

This article appeared at http://www.rrstar.com/communities/x955251505/East-State-upgrade-with-TIF-explored on February 9, 2009.


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