ROCKFORD (WREX) — Downtown Rockford could look a lot different in the near future. Millions of dollars have been ear-marked for improvements in that area.
For years, local leaders say downtown Rockford has been living in the past.
"These roads were set up four lanes across to essentially, not just for commuting traffic at peak times, but to move freight and in out of our downtown," Michael Dunn, the Executive Director of the Region One Planning Council, explained.
The roads he was referring to are Jefferson and Chestnuts Streets. Dunn said those roads also pose speed and safety risks and it's time to make some changes. He says that's because now, downtown has a night scene, apartments, and businesses.
So for the last two years, local leaders have worked to bring the area into the future.
"We've been fortunate to receive funding for our downtown and we also have applied recently for new grants for the City of Rockford to obtain additional funding," Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara said.
That's $7.5 million in state funding that will go toward improvements at the BMO Harris Bank Center, Davis Park, and with transportation.
The state legislature recently allocated $2.5 million a piece for renovations at Davis Park and the BMO Harris Bank Center. The other $2.5 million is for another project aimed at downtown Rockford.
"I think a downtown that's a great place to live, work, and play is important to the whole community and making streets more bicycle and pedestrian friendly are keys to a thriving downtown," Sen. Steve Stadelman said.
State Sen. Steve Stadelman pushed for the funding, and says he's excited about the plan that's been years in the works. It's been dubbed "The Downtown Rockford Complete Streets Project." It would reconstruct Jefferson and Charles Streets, which Dunn mentioned earlier, and add electric buses and routes through the city.
Dunn and Stadelman both explained that part of what makes the plan a strong one is that it partners with the Rockford Mass Transit District.
But in order to get the "Complete Streets Project" done, Rockford needs a $25 million federal grant, which it applied for earlier this year.
Leaders say they plan on getting that grant, although the last time they applied, Rockford wasn't chosen. They admit there were areas of weakness in the proposal. Dunn says that's not the case this time around, which means they plan for a revamped downtown in the near future.
The Region One Planning Council says it expects to hear if it got the grant in July or August. If for some reason the grant is denied, the local contribution, which Dunn says is somewhere around seven to eight million dollars, is freed up to be used for other projects.