Residents ask tough questions about WWW properties
Rockford City Manager Michael Young spoke to residents on Thursday, March 12 at City Hall about the future of the tannery property. Residents asked about saving jobs, seeking new, clean industry, and other possibilities for the Wolverine properties.
City leaders invited homeowners adjacent to the properties up for redevelopment when Wolverine closes tannery operations in Rockford, but many others also showed up for the first of many open house-style meetings.
According to City Mayor Chi Chi Rogers, future meetings will likely be held in a larger venue-such as one of Rockford’s middle schools-in order to accommodate what will likely be a large crowd.
In a large crowd for City Chambers, residents asked many questions regarding the future of several downtown properties. “Everything that’s not on the hill,” Young said of the five separate Wolverine parcels around town that face uncertain future use. Of greatest concern is the largest: the tannery, offices and parking on North Main Street.
“At this point, nothing is off the table,” said City Manager Michael Young. He pointed out that the announcement of the tannery closing is still relatively new and nothing has yet been decided or proposed from Wolverine.
“We got a big job in the next couple of months trying to get our arms around it… We are trying to get in front of this a little bit and steer it in a way that will be best for the community.”
Young pointed out to residents that the City does not own this property and cannot completely control what Wolverine decides to do.
He said in Rockford a demolition permit, not permission, is needed to tear a structure down. After the meeting he said trying to stop demolition by “slapping a historic designation on a building is a Gestapo tactic that I do not agree with.”
When a tannery employee took offense at the City’s interest in the redevelopment, Young said the City is not happy with the tannery closing.
“Please don’t think our eyes are all atwinkle and we are thrilled with this,” Young stated.
Another resident said Rockford was “too much cake and ice cream and not enough meat and potatoes… How many boutique-y shops do we need?”
Young said ideally the City would like to see some park potential for the riverfront property and look at a mixed use for the rest.
“What we don’t want as a City is for Wolverine to go off in a corner and come up with a plan and then say, ‘Here it is, what do you think?’ We don’t think Wolverine wants that any more than the City does. From a planning process we are probably looking at a several-months-long process of meetings like this,” he stated.
“I’d rather have ten of these than hold one public meeting and say we’ve fulfilled our statutory requirements.”