‘Rock capital’ coming to Rockford

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-119143621031287.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen and family, at Memorial Hall, announce Nielsen’s plans to build “Rick’s”—a rock ‘n’ roll restaurant, hotel and convention center with international drawing power.‘);

Hometown rocker Rick Nielsen announced plans Sept. 28 to break ground as early as November on a $25 million project built on the Cheap Trick guitarist’s star power.

The rock ‘n’ roll-themed attraction will feature an ever-changing museum showcasing Nielsen’s hundreds of guitars and other rock memorabilia. Nielsen and co-developer Brent Johnson, owner of Ringland-Johnson Construction and Genesis Land Development, also plan a restaurant, conference center and Hyatt Place hotel with nearly 130 rooms.

Visits from Nielsen’s high-profile friends put “Rick’s” in a position of having significant international drawing power.

“Imagine Rockford as it reinvents itself as a destination point,” Nielsen said, “but we don’t need to imagine that these visitors will stay, play and shop here, because they will.

“In the not-too-distant future,” the six-stringer added, “Rockford will also be known as the newest rock capital in the universe!”

Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen (R) may have put it best when he said simply, “It’s just one cool project.”

Nielsen and Johnson plan to ask for property and sales tax breaks, which Johnson said are essential to building Rick’s in Rockford.

“We are not asking for any taxpayer money,” Johnson explained, “only time to get the business on its feet, and phasing in the taxes on the property.”

Johnson reported a number of potential sites, both in and out of state, were considered. Although consultants advised Rockford was not the best choice, Nielsen and Johnson wanted to keep it here at home.

Johnson added Rick’s will employ 250 workers.

Nielsen believes the project, which includes an entertainment venue, will also draw attention and new opportunities to Rockford’s subtler cultural draws, including the Coronado Theatre.

“With Rick’s, we’re gonna put more than just ‘Rock’ back in ‘Rockford,’” Nielsen pledged.

The multiplex is to be at Riverside Boulevard and I-90, although a smaller downtown location may be added later.

Johnson indicated building downtown had been mulled over, but that access to greater traffic on I-90 resulted in the compromise.

Mayor Larry Morrissey (I), a downtown crusader, did not attend the press conference. Asked whether he was disappointed in the choice of location, Morrissey responded: “We certainly showed him some opportunities downtown. I think, ultimately, we could probably have a more robust series of incentives if they were coming downtown.”

The mayor indicated he’s very supportive of the venture, regardless of where Rick’s will rock in Rockford.

from the Oct. 3, 2007, issue

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