Two proposals for former court building rejected
by BETH ALTENA
The Rockford Area Historical Society hired a consultant and had huge plans to relocated their museum, now housed in a 100-plus-year-old building with no running water or fire protection, into the unused portion of the former 63rd District Court building, located across the parking lot from City Hall. A decision by Rockford City Council to reject their proposal stunned the group and has them feeling they were turned down without a proper chance to make their case.
Historical Society member Terry Konkle attended the February 14 City Council meeting and talked with Mayor Steve Jazwiec after to ask for the chance to prove to Council the Historical Society could bring in enough money to do a good job setting up and also staffing the museum in the new location.
The Historical Society, along with North Kent Community Services, submitted a proposal outlining their intended use of the court and on Friday, Feb. 11 received a letter formally rejecting their proposal. According to Rockford City Manager Michael Young and Mayor Jazwiec, council was unimpressed with the business plan of the proposal and is considering an alternative use for the property.
“We have a ton of people who could help us, but we can’t start asking for money when we don’t know if we are going to get the building,” Konkle said. He said he feels council is asking the organization to put the cart before the horse by expecting financial proof before they approve the move.
“We’d like a chance to sit down with council and talk about the financials. If we didn’t get a shot at it without talking to council, we’d feel pretty disappointed,” Konkle said to Jazwiec.
Jazwiec said council feels they put the offer out, made a decision and are unlikely to want to start over.
Young said the council rejected the two proposals and is looking at the cost of upgrading the building to the standards of City Hall. Council plans to reevaluate options to have another public-use building similar to the Community Cabin, which Young said is “booked every day.” Young said as a meeting area, the court building would offer a space twice as big as the Cabin and would fill a need in the community.
“The issue of finances was a big one,” Young said of the decision to deny the museum plan.
The Historical Society had hired consultant Jerry Adams of ? to help them with their vision of an interactive museum, which they believe would be a focal point of pride and bring visitors to the city. Adams described the move as “a no-brainer and a natural fit.”
“The museum has great stuff. They just don’t have room to display it,” Adams said. Of the projects in other communities he has helped with, this building was by far the best suited for such an endeavor.
Adams described the move as a potential economic boom to Rockford, which would highlight the town’s history but be sustainable financially. “I’m intrigued by Rockford,” he said. “It’s very vibrant. There is strong leadership in the downtown. It is right for a museum.”
Adams said in other projects in which he has worked he has helped overcome the problem of manpower to keep the building open—one of council’s concerns—by partnering more with schools. “I want the young kids involved, the middle-aged kids as well as the old kids,” he described.
Adams said other communities share the same issues Rockford faces as far as financing and staffing, and partnering more with schools helps on the fundraiser front as well, with schools participating in penny drives and can drives to help come up with cash. He also planned to partner with the business community and show them how a museum that draws visitors to downtown will benefit them as well.
“You have to have displays that are constantly changing so people will want to come back, not just for the grand opening,” he said. “You need that repeat buy-in.”
Adams said long-term funding ideas include room or display sponsorships, and are necessary. “You can’t create an ivory tower that people can only visit the third Thursday of the month for fifteen minutes. You have to keep the doors open.”
Konkle said he believes if the council was able to hear from his group’s members, and from Adams, it might reconsider the museum as the best public use for the court building. He also said he thought the financial portion of the proposal was as expected and that Council was not as clear as it could have been on what was required as far as financial preparedness.
“We can’t prove we have the money. We know we can raise the money, but we can’t start to raise the money unless we know we have the building,” Konkle said.
Young said Council was not turning its back on the Historical Society and recognizes that the building they have now is not adequate.
“They weren’t saying, ‘Tough luck, museum,’ “ Young said. “We do recognize the museum does not now meet our needs.”