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Public debate on new Civic Center sought

A leader of the group Friends of the Civic Center is urging aldermen to open up their consideration of a new civic center to public discussion before approving purchase of a new site.

John Kennedy says the city followed such a process before building the new library and senior center and could do it again now.

In an open letter to the aldermen he suggests public discussion of the “location, size, access, image and financing costs” for the new building.

Some reports have suggested that the aldermen may be only a month or so away from signing a deal for a new site for the civic center, but none of the aldermen contacted for comment would confirm that timetable.

“It may get wrapped up soon,” Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward, said, “but it’s taken much longer than anybody thought it would, and I’ve turned out to be wrong in my estimates every time.”

Mr. Kennedy said he’s heard speculation that the aldermen are considering a site in the Research Park area downtown. Other speculation has centered on now-vacant industrial sites on the city’s west side.

Friends of the Civic Center has generally opposed relocating the headquarters of city government from its current location in the former Marywood Academy building at 2100 Ridge Ave.

But Mr. Kennedy said that since the aldermen have repeatedly rejected renovating the existing building, he’s not suggesting reopening the renovation debate at this point.

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said, “There’s been a lot of public input on the civic center already. She added that she believes it would be difficult to solicit public comment on a new site because of the need to negotiate real estate purchases in confidence.

Ald. Tisdahl said, “I don’t see how it would be feasible to be more public than we have been. When you get down to picking a site, there are all sorts of financial reasons not to have it be part of a public process.”

The Civic Center Committee held its most recent executive session meeting on Aug. 28. Another session is scheduled for Oct. 16

Mr. Kennedy said he appreciates what he sees as a shift in views among the aldermen from preferring to tear down the existing building to one of at least trying to save it, if only for a new use, perhaps as residential condominiums.

“I’m not trying to throw a wrench in this process,” he said, “I’m just asking for public discussion because I think it’s the right thing to do.”

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