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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.