Editorial, Rockford Register Star, April 5, 2014
Downtown Rockford never will be what it once was.
It will be better.
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of the Amerock/Ziock project to the future of downtown, to the future of Rockford. The terms catalyst, transformational and game-changer have been overused lately, but this project truly can be a game-changer for Rockford.
The game is the economic vitality of the city. We need a prosperous downtown. It’s good for the entire city and it’s good for the region. Downtown is the heart of the city and the city is the heart of the region. Without a strong heart, everything else dies.
Wisconsin-based Gorman & Co. is poised to invest $52 million to renovate the 101-year-old Amerock/Ziock building, turning it into a 150-room hotel complex with bars and restaurants and as much as 20,000 square feet for conventions, banquets, receptions and trade shows.
It’s the kind of project that downtown advocates have been dreaming about for decades.
But the project will remain a dream unless the Rockford City Council approves the development agreement. The council is expected to take up the issue Monday night. We encourage aldermen to approve the project, and we hope the vote is overwhelmingly in favor.
A strong show of support would signal to other developers that Rockford is open for business — that the leaders of this city want it to grow and prosper, and that they care about the community’s future.
Already, there are indications that more development will occur if Amerock/Ziock goes through. Not every project will be a multimillion-dollar endeavor, but every new shop and every new restaurant will bring more life to downtown and more life to the city as a whole.
The city must make an investment as well, of course, and that’s where some aldermen get a bit nervous. More than $18 million in parking and infrastructure improvements constitute the city’s share of the development. That’s a significant sum, but it’s a worthwhile risk. Spending $18.6 million to get at least $52 million is a good return on investment.
It is likely to be closer to a $100 million return when you consider all the other projects on the table.
The city needs to spend money on parking and infrastructure regardless of an Amerock project. There’s not enough easily accessible parking downtown, and plenty of other work needs to be done to streets, sidewalks, bridges and other infrastructure.
Making that commitment now brings an immediate return on investment. Delaying or — perish the thought — rejecting the development would yield no return.
Private developers — Gorman, Urban Equity Properties and others — want to spend millions of dollars here. These developers are not charities. They want to be here because they think they can make money here. The city should make them feel as welcome as possible.
Rockford can control its own destiny by working with these developers. The alternative is to end downtown here at the News Tower and forget about everything west of the river.
New businesses and entertainment have given people more reason to come downtown in the past decade. There’s renewed enthusiasm because of Rockford City Market, Friday Night Flix, the refurbished BMO Harris Bank Center, the Coronado Performing Arts Center, world-class museums and new restaurants blending in with old favorites. The Amerock/Ziock project doesn’t just build on that momentum — it straps a jet pack to it.
Ald. Tom McNamara sums it up well: “I think by the end of 2016 you’re going to see a vastly different and much-improved downtown.”
It’s time for Rockford to embrace opportunity.