ONLY ON 23 NEWS: Preparing for The Grove

ROCKFORD (WIFR) -- It was one of the biggest fights between citizens, the City of Rockford, and Rockford Housing Authority in recent history and in some cases brought out the worst in people as debates waged over a public housing development on Rockford’s east side. Now The Grove at Keith Creek is just months from opening. 23 News got an exclusive tour of the units off South New Towne Drive.

Deborah Benson is getting her first look inside units at the grove at Keith Creek near Alpine and East State.

In just a few months the two and three bedroom townhomes will be filled with 49 families living now on the west side at Fairgrounds Valley.

When asked what kind of a difference living at The Grove would make, Benson said, “a big difference. I wouldn't have to worry about my kids going outside and they'd be going to a better school."

The new homes feature open layouts, new appliances, central air, and large rooms.

The units are based off of the same design concept as the Jane Addams complex, which now has one of the lowest crime rates of any RHA property. Before the old Jane Addams was torn down it had one of the highest crime rates."

"In the past we've had open air drug deals, I've seen several domestic violence situations. A lot of scary things going on. Friends didn't want to come over to my home, they were afraid, but with the new development it’s a whole new area,” Becky Lichty, President of the ORCHiD Neighborhood Association, said.

The old Jane Addams was a hotbed for crime in the ORCHiD neighborhood along Seminary Street near the Morgan Street bridge. It was demolished in 2008. The new, improved Jane Addams complex opened four years ago for the disabled and elderly. Now Lichty says the only time she sees flashing lights is for medical calls.

"We look out for people now instead of trying to hide from them," she said.

"I think it truly can start with the transformation of real estate. It only happens when you help people transform their lives," Rockford Housing Authority CEO Ron Clewer, said.

One of those lives transformed was Cora Woods. She's lived in an apartment at Jane Addams for two years and says she never wants to leave.

"This is great. It's just like a loft say maybe downtown somewhere," she said.

Woods' apartment is in perfect condition. Like The Grove, when Jane Addams was built many questioned if the beautiful units would be destroyed in a matter of years. Clewer says that's far from the case. In four years he says only one unit was damaged.

"When you have an amazing place you live you want to stay in an amazing place to live and they choose not to break the rules," he said.

Lichty says it all comes down to good property management. Like Jane Addams, The Grove will be managed by Gorman.

Back at The Grove as workers hammer away at the new units neighbors already living along South New Towne drive like Don Bondick, who once fought against the development, prepare to welcome everyone.

"We fought and we lost and there shouldn't be any bitterness. I'm going to be the first to sign up for it to walk them to school to pick them up and walk them back safely," he said.

Bondick says he and others in the New Towne Condominium Homeowners Association are still worried about parking, but as for the overall health of the neighborhood Bondick believes everything will be okay.

RHA residents like Benson ask we just give them a chance.

"I really hope they come over here and be right and be treated right and be respectful"

Not everyone has had a change of heart about The Grove. We received several Facebook comments saying:
"They should have called it the grave, where dreams come to die."
"Moving crime from one side of town and spreading it throughout the entire city…"
One viewer said instead of calling our story Preparing for the Grove, it should have been called "preparing for the ghetto"