The plan to tear down a former Rock Island firehouse has been put on hold.
City Council members this week voted to table demolition of Firehouse No. 5 (901 18th Ave., at Douglas Park) pending further discussion. Since there has been some opposition from residents on demolishing a historic structure, the issue will be revisited at the May 22 meeting.
Some council members didn’t feel they had all the information they needed in making a decision regarding the future of the firehouse, built in 1912. This will give them time to gather that information so they can make a better-informed decision, city spokesperson Sarah Hayden said Friday.
The city had sought bids to demolish Fire Station No. 5 at Douglas Park, and a proposed contract was presented at the last City Council meeting Feb. 13, 2023.
Some people wanted to convert the historic building into a museum to commemorate the park’s place in history as the host of the first NFL game. Another possibility was converting it into a youth center, but the building deteriorated over the years so that neither option was considered feasible.
“It all comes down to financial. We have a building that is condemned,” Rock Island Parks & Recreation Director John Gripp told Local 4 on Feb. 1. “It literally over time is falling down around itself. The value down at Douglas for us now is, ‘How can we engage the youth and the community to use that facility?’ And when you look at the pros and cons of rehabilitating Fire Station No. 5, it just doesn’t make good financial sense.”
Gripp says it would cost more than $500,000 to fix the structural issues.
At last Monday’s council meeting, the Community & Economic Development director recommended the city accept the low bid for demolition from Valley Construction, not to exceed $79,750.
The council memo said the building has been in a blighted state for many years. It has also been determined eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO).
“Demolition of a historic building is never a desirable outcome,” said the Feb. 3 council memo from Community & Economic Development Department. After years of researching alternatives, staff determined it was the only responsible option, staff wrote.
The city staff negotiated a memorandum of agreement with SHPO staff establishing a mitigation plan in accordance with the National Historic Preservation Act. Elements of the building will be salvaged and used to create an informational marker memorializing the building, the memo says.
The Friends of Douglas Park will work with the Parks & Recreation Department on the final design which will include the carved name block from the building’s front facade. Additionally, staff intend to go further than the agreement requires and salvage additional materials for use at other historic properties owned by the city like the Denkmann-Hauberg Estate.
The council decided to table action on the firehouse demolition contract.
Many projects at Douglas Park have been completed — including a new large ball field with turf, irrigation, dugouts, fencing and scoreboard, new concession stand and press box, new parking lot, new lighted community playground, exterior bench seating, and removal of all exterior fencing.
Douglas Park was home to the football team, Rock Island Independents, from 1907 to 1925. The Rock Island Independents was an original member of the National Football League (originally called the National Football Association). The Independents became famous in the Midwest, and Douglas Park was the site of the first NFL game on Sept. 26, 1920.