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'Nothing ventured, nothing gained'

STERLING – The comments have been flooding in.

Saturday, we published a story on the front page of the paper about the possibility the city will loan money to the Greater Sterling Development Corp. to buy, ready and open the downtown Sterling theater.

That morning, comments began to be posted on our website, saukvalley.com. Many readers were concerned and had questions about how the city could afford to make the loan.

The first comment came from reader Dale Collin: "And here I thought the city of Sterling was broke. They claim they can't pay certain things and have to raise property taxes again."

Some wondered how the city has $550,000 to loan for investment in the theater when Sterling also has discussed creating a stormwater utility fee to pay for a series of proposed construction projects.

I asked Sterling City Manager Scott Shumard how he would respond to that and other concerns raised by readers.

"Based on the numbers we were given, we have $11 million worth of projects for stormwater," Shumard said.

While the $550,000 could be used for stormwater projects, it would put only a tiny dent in the total cost – about 5 percent, he calculated.

Other readers expressed concern about the city's recent announcement that it must increase property taxes to help pay for soaring pension costs.

"A one-time infusion" of $550,000 wouldn't fix the pension-funding issue, Shumard said, and "2 years down the road, we'll still have a vacant building in even worse shape than it is now downtown."

He also said officials want to learn from past mistakes. Years ago, he said, the city tore down dozens of traditional, historic downtown buildings because owners hadn't taken care of them.

"Same situation here," he said. "Make investment up front, try to save something, or you let it fall further into decay, just like we did with all the other buildings in Library Plaza."

The theater building has been condemned for years, and owner Ralph White has not done much to bring it up to code, Shumard noted.

In addition, the GSDC will be collecting rent on four units that are part of the theater property. "If the theater fails in 3 years, the city still gets paid over time," Shumard said.

"Nothing ventured, nothing gained."

Tonight, I will cover the council's meeting and the vote. Look for the story in Tuesday's editions.

Sauk Valley Media reporter Kiran Sood covers government and happenings in Sterling and Rock Falls. She can be reached at ksood@saukvalley.com or at 800-798-4085, ext. 529.

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