Rockford poised for tannery re-use plan

January 23, 2010
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ROCKFORD — The Rockford Planning Commission may get its first glimpse soon of Wolverine World Wide Inc.’s plans for the 15-acre site that houses the shoe company’s closed tannery, City Manager Michael Young said.

Wolverine announced a year ago that it would close the tannery, shedding 90 union jobs and cutting into municipal revenues for taxes and wastewater treatment. It was one of several restructuring moves the company undertook in 2009, including eliminating a total of 450 jobs company-wide, consolidating warehouses in Michigan and closing one in Canada, freezing nonunion pay and dumping bonuses.

Now, Young said, the historic tannery, which opened 102 years ago, and its wastewater treatment components are decommissioned. Demolition on the site may occur in the spring.

Wolverine has been tight-lipped about its plans for the site bordering the Rogue River and the Fred Meijer White Pine Trail, Young said. The company’s filing with the Planning Commission would offer an initial view for the public of what could become of the Main Street land. But whether the company presents the information for Thursday’s Planning Commission meeting or at a later date is anyone’s guess, he said.

“They’re still trying to finalize plans. That’s as much as I know today,” Young said. “They plan in the spring to demo the site.”

He said the public firm’s Rockford Footwear Depot, situated on the site’s north end, probably will remain open until a replacement shoe store is built farther south, closer to the city’s signature downtown retail area.

“They know they need shoe store. We want a shoe store. That will be first focus on the site,” Young said.

The rest is likely to become a mixed-use development with retail, commercial and perhaps residential uses, as well as retaining the public park area along the river, he said.

Young said the site houses six or seven buildings. The land is zoned industrial and redevelopment will require rezoning, he added. The city’s master land use plan anticipates commercial use there, he said.

Barb Stein, owner of Great Northern Trading Company and chairwoman of Rockford’s Downtown Development Authority, said the DDA has not heard any details, either.

David Rasmussen, a business consultant and chairman of Rockford’s new Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, said the organization has fielded no requests since it was established last fall.

“People are really chomping at the bit to know” Wolverine’s plans for the site, Young added.

The Brownfield Redevelopment Authority covers the entire city. It can use a portion of property tax dollars to finance improvements for redevelopment, including environmental clean-up, infrastructure improvements, demolition, lead and asbestos abatement and site preparation.

“The authority was put together for basically any property owner within the city. We’re just waiting to see what happens and when it happens,” Rasmussen said. “I am sure the economy has something to do with how fast things move here.”

While the fate of the tannery site prompted the city to initiate the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, Rasmussen said other sites may come up for work in the future.

“We hope we’re being proactive and ready for something to happen. That was our goal here,” he said.

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