By Kevin Haas, Rockford Register Star, Apr. 7, 2014
Aldermen approved a deal to redevelop the city’s first skyscraper Monday that Mayor Larry Morrissey said could become one of the council’s “signature moments.”
City Council members voted 13-1 to approve an agreement with Wisconsin-based Gorman & Co. to turn the more-than-century-old Ziock building, 416 S. Main St., into a 150-bed hotel and conference center. Ald. Linda McNeely, who represents the 13th Ward where the hotel would be built, was the lone “no” vote.
Applause in the council chambers erupted after the final votes were tallied. Supporters of the project — which included building and trades workers and a downtown advocacy group — left no seat of the City Council audience unfilled.
“We are quite literally at the doorstop of transforming our entire downtown into an exciting, attractive and desirable place to live, work and play,” said Gary Anderson, president of the River District Association, a downtown advocacy group.
The city’s end of the redevelopment deal requires it to build new parking decks and surface parking to support downtown visitors. It also must convert South Main Street from a one-way to a two-way between Cedar and State streets, and build a new pedestrian crossing over the Chestnut Street bridge.
Those improvements would cost about $18.6 million. Gorman would also be rebated a portion of the hotel taxes and property taxes the company would pay after improvements are complete.
“We have a choice to either invest in ourselves or continue the downward slide of declining property values and disinvestment,” Anderson told the council before the vote.
The agreement paves the way for Gorman to purchase the city-owned building for $250,000 and pump more than $52 million into its redevelopment. The company still has a lot of ground to cover before construction can begin.
It will now apply for federal and state historic tax credits, complete a financial package that includes foreign investors, create detailed architectural designs and market the conference center to potential users. The aim is to complete the project before the end of 2016 in order to take advantage of historic tax credits.
Morrissey said the vote is the culmination of years of work that includes buying the Ziock building four years ago, lobbying the state to include part of Rockford in the River Edge Redevelopment Zone and getting approval for a new hotel tax to help fund the construction of a downtown sports complex.
He said it was about two years ago that he traveled with Gorman to China to learn more about the EB-5 immigrant investor program, a key piece of the developer’s plans to fund construction. EB-5 is a federal program meant to stimulate job creation and development through foreign investment.
The city still has work to do to pave the way for the project, including finalizing its plans to redevelop the Ingersoll building into a sports complex. The complex is one of the main incentives for Gorman to build its hotel downtown.
“Both of these projects are destined for success,” said Ald. Tim Durkee, R-1. “I’ll bet you that in five or six years, we won’t recognize what’s going on downtown.