To the Rockford Public Library: Preservation Is Progress

The original Rockford Public Library, a Carnegie Library.  We tried 'State of the Art' 50-60 years ago...and lost this in the process. Image via www.rockfordreminisce.com

The original Rockford Public Library, a Carnegie Library.  We tried 'State of the Art' 50-60 years ago...and lost this in the process. Image via www.rockfordreminisce.com

Last evening, the Board of the Rockford Public Library approved the purchase and subsequent demolition of 227 North Wyman Street.  According to the RRStar Article, the reasons of the Board are twofold: 

1: To provide space for ComEd to stage equipment for environmental remediation work.  RRStar articles abound on this if you wish to delve deeper. 

2: To expand the footprint of the new library, which, allegedly, would remain downtown.  

Image via development.ziock.org 

Image via development.ziock.org 

Pictured here is 227 North Wyman Street.  This is the property that the Board wants to demolish. It's owned by a development group out of Elgin; property taxes amounted to over $7,000 last year. 

Below is the letter I just submitted to the Library Board, and Executive Director Lynn Stainbrook.  Before you read: 

1: Please read the RRStar Article. 

2: Consider attending the Library's Community Meeting on Tuesday, March 22nd, 5:30p at the Library's Downtown Branch. 

Since I moved back to Rockford, I have taken great pleasure in borrowing books regularly from the Library.  It's not that I don't have purchasing power; rather, I find that the benefits of not purchasing far outweigh the costs of purchasing stacks of books altogether.  My Point: Just because you can buy it, doesn't mean you should.

-Michael

To the Board of Rockford Public Library, 

My name is Michael Smith.  I am a resident of Rockford, and am writing to express my dissatisfaction with the Board’s approval to purchase and demolish the property at 227 N. Wyman Street.  My reasons are as follows: 

1: Having a public entity purchase a revenue-generating property–at twice its current fair market value–and then remove that property from the tax rolls forever through demolition, is concerning to say the least.  Our taxing bodies already struggle to obtain sufficient funding for their programs and projects.  The Library has received property tax–incrementally, gradually, year after year–from places not unlike 227 North Wyman.  Demolishing the property, notably for the purpose of ComEd staging, is a futile, empty exercise.  It is neither resilient nor sustainable, and it does not engender a spirit of confidence from tax-paying residents. 

2: The City owns two public parking lots that are directly adjacent to the Library. Perhaps the Board would contact the City to discuss?  Hinshaw & Culbertson has a parking lot that has never reached capacity since it was paved; has the Board contacted First Midwest Group to discuss?  None of these lots produce any tax revenue; all of these lots will revert back to lots upon ComEd’s completion. Further, Paul Logli is quoted as saying “There was nothing from that old plant under [227 North Wyman Street]…there’s no indication the plant went that far.” This comment suggests that the building does not need to be demolished simply for staging purposes; again, we have no lack of paved lots for such staging to occur.  If the building is to be destroyed for the Library to build a new structure onto the lot, that seems to be an item for public input at your meeting on March 22nd. 

3: Purchasing a historic building, ‘green’ in that its energy is already embodied, and destroying it for a ‘State of the Art’ building is short-sighted and hubristic.  Further, 227 North Wyman Street falls within the River District, a District of interest to developers over the past few years.  Properties not unlike this one are being adaptively re-used and re-programmed within the River District; Have your Board members consulted the River District Board to discuss your decision?   Alternately, perhaps the Board would consider adaptively reusing 227 North Wyman and incorporating it into the new building design.  I would be happy to benchmark libraries who have addressed growth needs sensitively by blending traditional and modern architectural styles together. 

4:The RRStar article does not state explicitly that the Board has made a decision to keep the main branch downtown.  A clear, concise Statement from the Board is needed here.  Should we expect the main branch to remain downtown?  Or should we anticipate green space from two demolished buildings and one relocated Library in the next 3-5 years?  

Our Public Library is a valuable asset, not least because of the multiplicity and diversity of uses in its immediate context.  Demolishing a building diminishes multiplicity; we become less urban, less diverse, and more vulnerable.  Cities build incrementally and gradually, not immediately and drastically.  Cities build up, not out, and the stakeholders therein do not cannibalize valuable, long-term, revenue-generating properties for short-term gains.