Our View: Downtown Rockford pieces fitting together nicely

By The Editorial Board Rockford Register Star

Posted May 19, 2015 at 2:03 PM

Monday night’s Rockford City Council vote amending the development agreement with Gorman & Co. may seem like an incremental step toward downtown revival, but don’t underestimate its importance.

Aldermen not only showed confidence in the Gorman project, a $67 million hotel and conference center at the former Amerock/Ziock building, but their 11-1 vote sent a signal to other developers that they are willing to work in the best interests of all parties. Rockford is open for business.

Gary Gorman, CEO of the company that bears his name, had asked to have an option to sell Amerock/Ziock back to the city for the $250,000 he paid for it. That made aldermen nervous that he would back out. So, the deal changed. Now, Gorman will sell the building back to the city for $1 if the project is scrapped.

The worst-case scenario would be that the city resumes ownership of a partially cleaned-up Amerock/Ziock with $250,000 in its coffers.

That’s unlikely, and Gorman sounded confident Monday when he said: “This project is going to happen.”

Gorman is expected to close on the building Wednesday and with that move he will have spent more than $1 million on the project. That’s a huge commitment and doesn’t account for staff time that’s gone into the development.

The buzz about downtown Rockford has never been greater. Gorman is the biggest piece of the revival puzzle, but there are plenty of pieces in place with undoubtedly more to come.

Work on the downtown sports complex, another huge puzzle piece, is progressing well, and the Rockford City Market pavilion looks very good as the market prepares to open its sixth season Friday.

The market has been a catalyst for downtown development. It has shown that people will come to downtown Rockford regularly if you give them a good reason. The market set a record for attendance in 2014 with 75,500 visitors, an amazing number when you consider there were quite a few Fridays with unpleasant weather last year.

This year the pavilion will protect market visitors from the elements, so we expect a new record.

Several small-business owners started at the market and have opened stores downtown.There still are plenty of empty storefronts downtown for aspiring entrepreneurs. As projects such as Gorman’s and the sports complex take shape, those empty spaces will become more desirable.

We can’t remember a time when so many reputable developers were interested in the center of the city. Urban Equity Properties, led by Justin Fern, plans a $10 million development in the 50,000-square-foot Hanley building and is working on other downtown properties.

Morgan Management wants to turn the Rockford Trust Building into 62 downtown apartments, with space for retail and service businesses on the ground floor. The price is nearly $13 million.

Joseph James Partners, led by SupplyCore CEO Peter Provenzano, and Frantz Community Investors of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, also are looking for downtown opportunities.

You can feel the momentum build from our offices here in the downtown News Tower. There has been significant private investment in an area that had seen mostly public dollars spent on it.Downtown Rockford finally appears ready to live up to its potential. Years from now, we will be able to look back at Monday night’s vote as a vital step in the process.