Rockford Has No Hotel Reservations

July 12, 2002
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ROCKFORD — A stylish $5 million hotel has booked room along the edge of the Rogue River on East Bridge Street in downtown Rockford.

Called the River’s Edge, the hotel will offer travelers overnight accommodations in two different room styles and suite types, give city residents a relaxing place to gather, and help boost business development.

At least 34 rooms will fill the hotel, with possibly as many as 50, in economy and mid-sized styles along with large and executive suites. The hotel also will house a restaurant that will seat up to 100 and a conference center that can hold as many as 300 for business seminars, wedding receptions and parties.

River’s Edge of Rockford LLC is developing the two-story building, which is a modern-day version of a rustic lodge.

“We’ve construed it as a boutique hotel. That is what everyone is calling it,” said Michael Gantos, an associate broker with commercial real estate firm S.J. Wisinski & Co. and a partner in the project.

“In order to do this and to blend in with the community, the city of Rockford did not just want a ‘slap-it-up’ hotel,” he added. “That’s why the design blends in with the existing buildings in the city.”

MHB Paradigm Design Inc. of Walker designed the building.

Gantos and Norm Noordeloos, vice president of business development for Rockford Construction Co., make up the partnership right now. But others may become involved in the development before the hotel opens in the fall of 2003.

The idea for the River’s Edge surfaced when city officials spoke with Noordeloos about the need for a hotel. Noordeloos, regarded as one of the area’s most respected commercial builders, brought Gantos into the picture and they began working with planners and council members on the hotel plan last year.

In June, the Rockford City Council agreed to sell the old water plant along the Rogue to them for $300,000, and to spend about $120,000 to tear the building down for the hotel.

Gantos said the Downtown Development Authority felt Rockford has needed a hotel in the central business district for years. Not a large one with layers of floors and hundreds of rooms, but a smaller, friendlier one that also would be a gathering place.

“That was what they came up with. Then they searched us out and we listened to their requirements. We did some preliminary work and analysis, and found out that they were right,” said Gantos.

Because of the DDA request, the River’s Edge has been designed so the restaurant and the conference center can remain separate or can be joined together to host large events.

“It’s not a point of doing a project for a project,” said Gantos. “It’s a point of doing a project to enhance the community.”

Rockford City Manager Michael Young told the Business Journal that the working relationship between the developers and the city has been a point of pride.

“Absolutely. We’ve been working with them for over a year and it’s been a good process. It’s probably been longer than we all would have wanted it to be, but everyone has a high level of confidence in Mike and Norm,” he said.

“It’s been a process where the city and the developers have been working together to better the downtown community, rather than them just coming in and saying this is what we’re going to do for you,” he added. “It’s been a true partnership.”

Young felt that the River’s Edge would not only fill a lodging void in the city, which has a motel and a bed-and-breakfast, but would also boost business in Rockford.

“We have a very strong downtown business district. But we, like many small towns in America, are competing against the malls and the big-box stores. We really have to provide an environment and unique amenities to get people to come into the community,” he said

“So we view the hotel as something that will provide another anchor development in downtown Rockford, which will, in turn, help all the other business we have downtown.”

Young said the six-month due diligence period started after the buy-sell agreement was signed in June. The city will look at the project as a Planned Unit Development (PUD) in order to nail down all the design specifics. He said the city’s Planning Commission will get involved and work with the developers on putting the details together.

“The ball is in their court as far as finishing their plans. It’s in our court as far as getting it through the Planning Commission,” said Young. “So we find ourselves again in this partnership situation, where we are going to work together through the final details.”

Gantos is looking for someone to operate the restaurant and for a hotel chain that will hook up the River’s Edge to its national network. He hopes to have everything wrapped up in about six months and break ground on the project late this year. Construction should take no longer than 10 months, so the hotel should be open for business in the fall of 2003.

“The next step for us is to set up the PUD and make sure that everything is going to flow with the city, getting all their design requirements and working out all the different details of preserving the boardwalk and the easements along the river,” said Gantos.

Gantos felt that the hotel’s location, along the Rogue River and the White Pine Trail, will give the River’s Edge an image and a feel that most hotels can’t capture.

“We want to do an integrated work with the landscape of the river and the community, kind of create a park-like setting and pull everybody down there to the hotel,” he said. “We want to have it be a central hub and have it feed off from there, letting people go off and do different things.”           

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