ROCKFORD (WREX) — The future of the old Barber-Colman site has never been more in question. Leaders like Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara and Winnebago County Chairman Frank Haney were confident Rock Valley College would breathe new life into it with its Advanced Technology Center. But RVC pulled out of the project, saying there were too many delays. McNamara says that’s not true.
“There’s not a single deadline that the city of Rockford missed. Not one,” he said.
The mayor says frustrated is an understatement when it comes to how he feels about RVC’s decision.
“Without an ATC and a $9.2 million investment, that dramatically changes the financial makeup of changing those, that complex of building,” McNamara said.
“Any assertion that this was not an achievable project at Barber-Colman is simply inaccurate,” said Chairman Haney, who says he’s equally disappointed at the missed opportunity.
“We just left tens of millions on the table for a transformational project in southwest Rockford,” he said.
For decades the old Barber-Colman manufacturing sit has sat abandoned in a neighborhood that’s historically struggled with poverty and lack of resources. An area served by Alderman Venita Hervey.
“Just personally, I feel betrayed,” Hervey said of Rock Valley College’s decision.
Now she says if another development won’t move into the building quickly, she wants Barber-Colman torn down.
“If it’s a liability then I want it gone. As much as I love it, I would still take out the first brick to see it tumble because that’s what’s necessary to get the whole area moving,” she said.
“We believe wholeheartedly that the current condition of those buildings is totally unacceptable. So we will work quickly to either redevelop or look to other solutions to reduce the blight in that area,” said McNamara.
While the deal with RVC is broken, McNamara says that doesn’t meant the city’s relationship with it is too.
“The city of Rockford has an continues to have a needed and wants a strong relationship with RVC. I’m not gonna let one project change that. I will tell you I’ll be more cautious as I move forward but we will certainly continue to work with RVC as we have for decades,” he said.
Tearing down Barber-Colman would cost the city millions of dollars. Hervey said she plans to approach developers with a history of working in low-income, high-crime neighborhoods and turning them around.