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By Gary W. Anderson, guest columnist, Rock River Times, April 2, 2014

Rockford has an unprecedented opportunity to transform downtown into a viable and vibrant urban space. Gorman & Company proposes to redevelop the Ziock/Amerock Building into a 160-room hotel and conference center, infusing new life into a section of town that desperately needs major revitalization.

This privately-developed project is poised to render a quantum shift — to be the catalyst that so many have longed for. It complements and adds to other projects already under way — including the Prairie Street Brewhouse, the 300 and 400 blocks of East State Street, and others just beginning, such as the Rockford Trust Building. The possibility of being able to claim more than $100 million worth of development by private investment is very real — this in the area of our city that has seen very little in the last 40 years.

We are quite literally at the doorstep of transforming our entire downtown into an exciting, attractive and desirable place to live, work and play. But to be a progressive community that strives to retain talent and an engaged workforce, our city council must support the development of the Ziock/Amerock Building now. As presented, this project provides parking for the proposed hotel and conference center — both important long-term goals for our community. As a result of expanding their offerings, the BMO and RAVE are experiencing increased attendance. These facilities and events need additional parking as well. Further, we must improve our traffic flow and access to all of our facilities to make them successful. Additional parking is an absolute need in the southwest quadrant of downtown.

We know that aldermen are concerned with the financing of more parking; we appreciate their concerns. However, opportunities can disappear if we are not prepared to act. We should be encouraging Gorman & Company’s private investment of $52 million by providing supportive action that will substantially improve an admittedly aging area of downtown.

Big investment is only made when there is confidence in the marketplace; an organization such as Gorman & Co., will generate even more confidence by other investors to take a look at Rockford. We have a choice to either invest in ourselves or continue the downward slide of declining property values and disinvestment. Without a doubt, a “no” vote will have a catastrophic effect — it will discourage other development opportunities that other investors are considering. It will reverse the existing momentum and perpetuate the perception that this city doesn’t want to do business with anyone.

Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen a renewed enthusiasm for downtown with the growth of the City Market, new and existing restaurants, and events such as Dinner on the Dock. It has spawned a whole new level of excitement about the potential for redevelopment.

We urge our aldermen to vote “yes” for the redevelopment agreement with Gorman & Co., to bring us a long-sought downtown hotel and conference center. The Transform Rockford movement is encouraging us to realize that change IS a strongly desired commodity in this community. And, yes, we do care about our community’s future.

$100 million worth of construction and jobs can — and will — have a significant impact on our community. Let’s embrace it and appreciate the positive impact on culture, attitude and enthusiasm. Let’s make it happen!

Gary W. Anderson is president of Gary W. Anderson Architects in Rockford and is also president of the River District Association.