Rockford Gets Riverfront Development

July 1, 2005
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ROCKFORD — Rockford city officials finally were able to complete a lengthy mission last week when they hosted a groundbreaking ceremony with Promenade of Rockford LLC for a new mixed-use project on property the city has wanted to be developed for years.

Officials entered into an agreement to sell 1.5 acres of prime real estate along the bank of the Rogue River on East Bridge Street in downtown Rockford to the development group. In turn, Promenade will put up a two-story, 32,000-square-foot office building with specialty retail on the site, plus leave much of the land open for residents to enjoy.

"We were able to keep all that river frontage for the public, as we were able to negotiate that," said Rockford City Manager Michael Young.

The developers didn't just agree to buy the land and build the building, they also pledged to make all the improvements along the riverbank.

"There is going to be a boardwalk, some gazebos, new lighting and benches. It's really going to be a neat development when it is done," said Young.

Morris, Schnoor & Gremel, an insurance firm already located in Rockford, will be the building's lead tenant and take about two-thirds of the second floor for its offices. The rest of the second level and all of the ground floor will be leased to specialty retailers. Young said the partners in the insurance company were the catalysts behind the project.

"They have teamed up with a gentleman named Mac Cartang," said Young.

"He is with Accurate Construction, which is from the West Coast and has done a lot of developments out there. They're doing, I think, some other residential developments along with Morris, Schnoor and Gremel. They put the group together and formed the LLC."

Andrus Architecture of Rockford designed the building. Construction is expected to be finished by next spring.

City officials put together a Planned Unit Development agreement for the project with Promenade that restricts the type of businesses that can go into the building.

"Our downtown is doing very well but we want to stay ahead of the curve and bring another anchor store or destination here to help all of downtown. So through the PUD agreement we excluded a lot of uses that we didn't want to see like fast food, dry cleaners, video stores and things like that," said Young.

"We honed in on specialty retail."

Another reason why officials are excited about the project, which will reportedly cost up to $5 million to build, is the building will be within the Downtown Development Authority and the tax revenue captured from the

project will be reinvested each year in the district.

"It's really going to be great for downtown," said Young.

But everything wasn't always so great, as city officials have tried to close on a deal for the site with a private developer for about five years. Each time they felt they had an agreement, something would come up and the deal would go away.

They thought they had a solid proposal three years ago for the property, which once was home to an active water plant. A group of investors offered to buy the land across from the dam for $300,000 and then spend $120,000 to take the plant down and put up a hotel that would stimulate even more development in the city.

"Then we had a whole bunch of other people come forward. Another hotel came up. We were entertaining four proposals at one time," said Young. "But this turned out to be a great public-private partnership." 

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