New incentives sweeten the Amerock, Tapco pot

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-118902122031483.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘The Burson Knitting (Tapco) building, 222 Cedar St.‘);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-118902127331486.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘State Sen. Dave Syverson (left), former Mayor Doug Scott, and County Chairman Scott Christiansen.‘);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-118902135630932.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘The Ziock (Amerock) Building, 416 S. Main St.‘);

Following announcement of the likely sale of the former Amerock and Tapco buildings to a Los Angeles real estate development firm, the State of Illinois has given the private sector more reasons to invest in Rockford’s riverfront.

Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) announced Aug. 30 that Rockford received certification from Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) to participate in a new pilot program aimed at redeveloping former industrial sites along waterways. Rockford is one of only three cities in Illinois to receive the River Edge Redevelopment Zone designation. Aurora and East St. Louis are also participating.

The program is designed to be a collaborative effort among the city, state and private sector to develop commercial, residential and entertainment destinations along the riverfront. Rockford’s redevelopment zone stretches along the Rock River, from West Riverside Boulevard to the southern edge of the airport.

“The riverfront vision,” Morrissey explained, “is all about looking at the current, modern forms of entertainment, retail, residential, mixed-use that are working on waterways throughout the country.

“It’s not so much about one project,” Morrissey continued. “It’s about having tools in place that are attractive to the private sector, helps them to reduce the risk and increase rate of return on investment so they can come into the area and have the confidence of knowing that their investments will be protected.”

The mayor argued communities with waterfronts should utilize them to attract wealth. “If we can’t get that done, the only ones we have to blame is ourselves,” he said.

In a press release issued the same day, Gov. Blagojevich stated: “River communities like Rockford were the original economic engines of Illinois, and there are underutilized and abandoned properties along major waterways prime for redevelopment. River Edge Redevelopment will provide Rockford and local businesses with the additional resources they need to be able to clean up brownfields sites, which is going to attract more businesses and put more people to work.”

Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Director and former Rockford Mayor Doug Scott (D) was also present at the press conference at Davis Park.

“What we’ve got here in Rockford, and what we’ve got in other cities throughout the state, are a lot of older industrial areas right in the middle of downtowns,” Scott reported. “The good thing about this program is that it’s very flexible. …Each city has different needs. Each city has some different environmental issues that are there. Each city has a different kind of development dynamic that you need to try to pursue.”

Scott said Rockford, Aurora and East St. Louis will split $5 million for EPA cleanups.

“Environmental cleanup really works best when you can pool it with private dollars, pool it with the tax credits, pool it with the grant money,” Scott added, “and really try to spur some private development.”

Rep. Chuck Jefferson (D-67), who sponsored a bill to include Rockford in the River Edge program, said, “These are the types of things that we have to continue to do: working with the federal government, working with the state government, working with the local governments to make sure we’re collaborating on the things that are important to Rockford and to the people we represent.”

Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen (R) offered his bipartisan thanks to the governor for including Rockford in the program.

“This is the way it ought to be,” Christiansen asserted. “Government ought to set the incentives, have those available and then bring in the private sector. And they’ll figure it out, believe me.”

Grants, tax credits and exemptions are expected to lure private investment for an economically-revitalized riverfront on sites normally passed over by developers. Morrissey suggested additional tools, such as tax increment financing (TIF), could make the area irresistible for private investment. It is hoped the River Edge program will breathe new life into existing structures, such as the former Amerock and Tapco buildings.

The Aug. 28 announcement that an undisclosed real estate giant is poised to purchase the two properties is the latest glimmer of hope in what has been a long line of disappointments resulting from exciting redevelopment opportunities that have never come to fruition.

The unnamed investment group envisions dining, residential, retail and entertainment uses for the properties. The Los Angeles-based firm is reportedly ready to pump $40 million into the two buildings.

Bound by a confidentiality agreement, Morrissey remained tight-lipped, but Christiansen expressed optimism because the contract has moved beyond the due diligence stage for the purchase of the former Amerock and Tapco sites.

“Fortunately, a program like this and things that were delivered by the mayor and City Hall very quickly,” Christiansen noted, “that certainly helped that decision.”

Citing the confidentiality agreement, Assistant City Administrator Julia Scott-Valdez would not say what other incentives were offered.

Bill Mathis, who purchased the Amerock property in 2005 for $700,000, would not divulge a sale price. Mathis originally hoped to convert the building into condominiums and mixed-use retail.

“My organization wasn’t able to push it forward,” Mathis explained. “I still think that it’s something that would definitely be a milestone for development in downtown Rockford.”

“I am confident that this will close soon,” said Melissa Miller, the Century 21 Country North listing agent. Miller added the deal will be “great for Rockford; the downtown in particular.”

During his remarks, Morrissey concluded: “The only thing limiting Rockford from achieving its dreams is Rockford. If Rockford’s willing to work together, when we can partner in a positive fashion, we can do a lot of great things.”

Aldermen Victory Bell (D-5), Bill Timm (R-9) and Sen. Dave Syverson (R-34) were also in attendance. from the Sept. 5 – Sept. 11, 2007, issue

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