By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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ROCKFORD — Finding out the city has been placed on another internet list can spur a feeling of dread for Rockford’s biggest cheerleaders. Well, surprise, the city has found itself on a list it can be proud of.
The city’s culinary scene, culture and affordability have landed it on a list of the most surprisingly cool places to live in the country.
MarketWatch, a financial and business news website, named Rockford one of its “five surprisingly cool towns where you can buy a home for $150K or less.”
“I like the term ‘surprisingly cool towns,'” said John Groh, CEO of the Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. “When you wrap that up with affordability, I think those are two great ways to describe Rockford: high quality of life, high quality of housing at a lower cost.”
Internet listmakers often find a place for Rockford, from a 2014 Law Street Media ranking as the No. 2 most dangerous city in America with a population under 200,000 to a Good Hire list earlier this year as one of the least affordable places in the country.
“That one especially doesn’t square up to me,” Groh said of the affordability list. “You have to take them with a grain of salt sometimes. Some days they’re going to make you smile and some days they’re going to make you scratch your head.”
This time, the city’s affordability was a highlight for listmakers.
The region’s affordability is something real estate agents often tout to buyers coming here from out of town.
“We hear it from out-of-town buyers all the time. They can’t get over how much house they can purchase with the money,” said Conor Brown, CEO of Rockford Area Realtors. “Whether they’re coming from Chicago or the suburbs or other metropolitan areas like New York, San Francisco, they just are amazed with how much home they can purchase.”
Even with home prices at record high levels, the three-month rolling average price of homes purchased in Boone, Winnebago and Ogle counties in February was $159,030. The national average sales price of a home sold in February was $511,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“The city has a good culinary scene, offering gourmet burgers at 15th & Chris, and the Norwegian, a pub that offers Scandinavian food and live music,” the article stated.
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James Purifoy, who owns 15th & Chris, remodeled a shuttered ice cream stand near where he grew up into one of the city’s most popular burger joints. He strives to put his city in a positive light, and wants his restaurant to earn the reputation as a must-have item when you come to the city.
“Me coming back to an area that I was brought up in and be a spotlight of the city and my community, it’s awesome to me,” Purifoy said of being mentioned on the list.
Brown said the recent MarketWatch list “provides a balance” to some of the bad lists the city has found itself on.
In 2017, 24/7 Wall St. named Rockford one of the 50 worst American cities to live in, ranking it No. 16. It got the same ranking in 2018. It’s been on the good side of lists, too, including being named one of the 12 most beautiful places to visit in Illinois by Thrillist.
”We get dinged for being on a lot of ‘bad’ lists, but there is a lot we can be proud of living in Rockford. Our city has produced talent that have won Grammys, Oscars, fashion awards, and national championships. We have always been a city that has been cool and creative,” Brown said. “We value ‘local’ because it is unique and exclusive and we take great pride in that. For a mid-sized city to have this much art, entertainment, museums, gardens, parks, nature trails – it is almost unheard of. So yeah, I like being on the ‘coolest’ list.”
5 ‘surprisingly cool towns’
Here are MarketWatch’s five surprisingly cool towns where you can purchase a home for less than $150,000.
- Wichita Falls, Texas
- Rockford, Illinois
- Syracuse, New York
- Topeka, Kansas
- Little Rock, Arkansas