Rockford Park District
Helping People Enjoy Life!


Rockford Park District Reveals Plans to Reinvest in Neighborhood Parks, Youth, Aging Infrastructure, and Other Community Priorities

ROCKFORD, IL – The Rockford Park District improves the quality of life for citizens by providing a vibrant park system that increases property values, stimulates economic development, decreases juvenile crime, and improves our communities’ health. The Rockford Park District also protects the environment, employs thousands of area kids for the first time, and brings people from different backgrounds, ethnicities, and neighborhoods together for the common love of play.  To ensure that the Rockford Park District is meeting the recreational needs of this and succeeding generations, the District initiated a community-led master plan process over the past six months. A community-led master plan will provide a series of recommendations to guide investment in District assets, along with decisions regarding obsolete, underutilized, or non-trending parks, facilities, and amenities over the next five years. 

The District was built through the generosity of its citizens, strategic partnerships, and dedicated team members. Even during the recession, the District has been able to consistently provide outstanding park and recreational offerings to our community; however, with declining revenue both through fees and a declining tax base, which are the District’s two main revenue streams, along with population and demographic shifts, it is becoming more difficult to provide the same level of service without an increase in revenue or a decrease in the District’s footprint.  

Master Plan Process

The District began a community-led master plan process in March to determine District priorities and allocation of resources of taxpayer dollars.

“The Rockford Park District was citizen-created in 1909 and citizens are a huge part of our District today. This is the community’s park district, so it was very important that we were able to engage with our community about what they value and want their tax dollars going to support today,” said Rockford Park District Executive Director Jay Sandine.

The process included the following: 

  1. Seven community engagement sessions
  2. Recreational needs assessment survey where 2,937 surveys were collected
  3. Phone line for citizen feedback
  4. Operations Advisory Committee, where seven members of the community toured facilities, met with team members, reviewed policies, asked questions, and provided feedback
  5. Engaged with more than 100 neighborhood groups and other organizations, sharing information about the District’s history, financial realities, and community impact
  6. Feedback sessions with youth at neighborhood parks via chalkboards
  7. Specific user groups meetings for ice, aquatics, and golf
  8. Social media – A Day in the Life of the Rockford Park District via Facebook videos
  9. Met with area media outlets to share process and ask for help promoting process

The District collected feedback throughout the process regarding allocation of funds, priorities, and District strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities. Results indicated that programs and services that are most valued to the community are: neighborhood parks, open space and trails, arts and cultural programs, Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens, community-wide events, outdoor education, swimming, and youth programming. Each comment and suggestion received is critical data that is needed for the District to create a five-year master plan that represents the communities’ priorities for the District. For additional information regarding the master plan process visit

Master Plan Recommendations to Achieve Communities Priorities

Feedback received was essential for the development of master plan recommendations regarding areas to reinvest in, strategically add, eliminate, suspend, or reduce. Tonight, the Rockford Park District Board of Commissioners received a presentation that provided master plan recommendations based on the District’s communities’ priorities. Once the Board approves the recommendations, District leaders will modify priority results and develop a five-year strategic plan to achieve Board/communities’ priorities while matching the economic realities of the community and District, along with complementing the priorities of other community leaders and organizations.  Every recommendation is based on the following data: community priorities, expense, revenue, attendance, trends, and access.

“We received some very specific guidance from our community in terms of what they want their tax dollars going toward. I want to thank everyone for engaging with us, and please know that we listened to your ideas and suggestions. Getting back to some of our core services, focusing on youth, teens, and families, and downsizing the District is something we heard loud and clear.  Heading into 2019 budget planning, the District is anticipating a nearly $800,000 deficit so in order for us to add and reinvest in what our community is telling us, we have to reduce our footprint and live within our means. Our goal is to have a vibrant park system that is helping to improve the quality of life for the citizens we serve,” said Rockford Park District Executive Director Jay Sandine.

Reinvest - Improve, allocate more resources

  • Neighborhood Parks - Park features and programming for youth, teens, and families
  • Aging Infrastructure - Facilities, parks, trees, mechanical systems, playgrounds, number of tennis courts, and capital needs of area museums
  • Community Partnerships - Connect with those the District isn’t currently serving, and strengthen partnerships that are mutually beneficial
  • Our Next Generation - Increase youth programming, along with leadership development and job opportunities

Add - Something new, doesn’t exist

  • Investment in Trails - Creation of world-class silent sports trail system at Atwood Park
  • Create/Enhance Destination Parks - Regional attractions that are different from neighborhood parks, and feature unique recreational elements to suit different lifestyle needs. Could include water features, family activities, events, camps, etc. Finish development of key assets at strategic locations such as performance area at Levings Park. Added amenities will enhance experience and meet community needs. Additional examples could include adding amenities to Southwest Park and Lockwood Park.
  • Trending Program and Revenue Opportunities - Alternative, new, or non-traditional year-round programming to attract new, current, and non-golfers, expanded food and beverage service and merchandise, add gaming at Aldeen Golf Club, enhanced family programming 

Eliminate - Reduce footprint, live within means, remove, get rid of

  • Reduce Tax Subsidy – Achieve a reasonable tax subsidy at the following locations: Aldeen Golf Club, Alpine Hills Adventure Park, Carlson Ice Arena and Riverview Ice House, Mercyhealth Sportscore Complexes, and UW Health Sports Factory
  • Privatization, Suspension, or Elimination
    • Suspend operation of Forest City Queen and Trolley Car 36 for 2019, and explore privatization. 
    • Continue  to explore privatization of Magic Waters Waterpark. If privatization doesn’t occur, continue operations and explore options.
    • Suspend operations of Sand Park Pool for 2019 due to mandated remediation work. Due to high tax subsidy needed for aquatic facilities, the District will continue exploring partnership opportunities or may be forced to further reduce aquatic services.
    • Golf Operations in 2019 - Close Alpine Hills golf course, explore reuse or privatize (sale or lease) Elliot Golf Course, increase fees, increase Park Champions, add new programs
    • Golf Operations in 2020 - Depending on community support in 2019, District could close Elliot Golf Course and one additional course
  • Sale or Lease of Land - Specific District owned property with no recreational value such as various District owned buildings (example: lease former administrative office in Sinnissippi Park). Land in prime development locations such 10 acres on Mercyhealth Sportscore Two campus.

Next Steps

District leaders are seeking Board approval regarding the recommendations to reinvest, strategically add, eliminate, suspend, or reduce.  Once approved, the Board will modify priority results and staff will develop a five-year strategic plan to achieve Board and communities’ priorities. Fundraising priorities will also be established for Rockford Park District Foundation. Finally, staff will develop the budget for 2019. 

Mike Costello