Rockford Going Green

March 24, 2008
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ROCKFORD — The arrival of spring brings with it the color green: green grass, green leaves and, in downtown Rockford, the city’s first green building.

Tom Cronkright II, owner of Cronkright Ventures LLC, is looking to bring the town its first LEED-certified building, at 123 Courtland St.

“Green is the future of construction, and we want to stay on the forefront of that,” said Cronkright.

Cronkright Ventures owned the 130-year-old building that formerly occupied the site. That building burned down last September. The building’s tenant, the Old Fashioned Smokehouse, had just gone out of business. The cause of the fire is still undetermined.

The structure — in which women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony delivered a speech in 1879 — was a total loss. Cronkright said many residents were sad to see it go, but also excited about the new project, which the Rockford Planning Commission unanimously approved.

“We spent a considerable amount of time determining the best use and architectural style for the new structure,” said Cronkright. “Our goal was to incorporate a period-style design into a high-performance building.”

The new building will be one structure divided into two stores. Total square footage will be between 1,700 and 2,400 square feet per side, depending on whether the tenant opts for a loft in the front of the building, which would leave the back open, allowing for high ceilings. The building will also have hardwood floors, an outdoor seating area overlooking Courtland Street, and private, covered parking to the rear.

“This is going to be a beautiful addition to our downtown business district, one that will set the bar even higher,” said Rockford City Manager Michael Young.

Even though this will be the town’s first LEED-certified building, Rockford has focused on environmental issues in order to help preserve the section of the Rogue River that runs through town. Young said the 123 Courtland building “fits in great with what we’re doing here in Rockford.”

Cronkright has hired Richard Craig of Craig Architects, who has assisted Cronkright since he began developing, as well as Bazzani Associates Inc., for its expertise in LEED certification.

Two critical features in making a building green are energy conservation and indoor air quality, said Nate Gillette of Bazzani Associates. In order to obtain LEED certification, a building has to be reviewed by the U.S. Green Building Council in Washington, D.C. The review takes about six to eight weeks and is based on a point system with seven prerequisites and five categories, including site issues, energy use, indoor environment, water efficiency and materials used.

Taken into account are where resources come from; what happens with waste; lighting, indoor plumbing and outdoor irrigation; and much more. One main aspect is the “thermal envelope,” which refers to how well a building is insulated.

Gillette noted that the type of LEED certification a building receives is determined by the environmental goals of the owner and the development team.

“Rockford continues to thrive, due to the commitment of business owners like (Cronkright) who take ownership and continue to invest in our community,” said Young.

The 123 Courtland building is not the only property Cronkright Ventures has purchased since its inception in 2002. The company was started by Cronkright and his wife, Julie.

“My wife dragged me into it,” said Cronkright, who was a lawyer with Warner Norcross & Judd at the time. He added that Julie wanted to get into retail and was going door-to-door looking for a space to buy until she knocked at 17 Squires St. in downtown Rockford.

Four days later they closed on the building and started Jade, a clothing boutique Julie owns and operates.

“After that, I just got the bug,” said Conkright, who went on a “buying binge.”

In addition to 123 Courtland and Jade, Cronkright now owns 110 Courtland, 9-11 Main St., and the newly renovated 120-126 Courtland, which used to be the American Legion Hall.

Cronkright noted there are three things he does: real estate, law and Sun Title Agency of Michigan. Sun Title began in 2005 when Cronkright decided to step out of the big law firm life and into a more entrepreneurial role. He and his long-time friend Lawrence Duthler started Sun Title out of frustration over what they had experienced in an industry they felt was stagnant. The company, licensed in six states, offers title insurance, escrow and closing services for real estate, vessels and aircraft.

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