Urban Living Tour showcases downtown living opportunities

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-118902145431485.jpg’, ‘Photo by William Charles’, ‘Urban living: William Brown Lofts Building combines historic and contemporary architecture with interior design.‘);

Saturday, Sept. 8, the River District Association will host its second annual Urban Living Tour. Last year’s event brought hundreds of people downtown, and organizers hope this year’s tour will attract even more.

Tourists will be able to visit sites anytime between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Tickets are on sale, and can be purchased for $12 in advance. They will be $15 the day of the tour. Contact the River District Association office at (815) 964-6221 for more information.

Advance tickets are on sale at the River District office; JustGoods, 201 Seventh St.; and 5SPA, 508 E. State St. Day-of-event tickets are sold at William Brown Lofts, 228 S. Main St., and JustGoods, 201 Seventh St. Tickets are non-refundable.

This year’s tour stretches beyond the River District boundaries and will include projects from adjacent downtown neighborhoods, as well as properties in the heart of the District. The selection of sites include a single-family home in the Churchill’s Grove neighborhood, several upper-story redevelopment projects, examples of loft-style living, unique artist’s studios, and even one of Rockford’s premier high-rise apartments. The tour will give visitors a chance to see several projects in the construction and remodeling phases.

Organizers hope the tour will not only showcase some of the unique living options downtown, but also promote some of the more traditional historic neighborhoods that border the River District. Two of this year’s sites are in the Mid-Town District, the business district directly southeast of downtown.

The Urban Living Tour is just one initiative by the River District Association to promote downtown living. Others include the collection of rental and sales data of downtown housing, and gathering the names of people interested in moving to the downtown area. This year’s tourists will have an opportunity to see several new projects, remodels and vacant units, and indicate their interest in renting or purchasing.

Increasing living opportunities in the heart of downtown and promoting the historic neighborhoods surrounding downtown have been important priorities for the association the past several years. Throughout the years, researchers have sought to identify common elements found in successful and vibrant downtowns. A number of studies have identified a strong downtown housing market as one of the key components for revitalization. Although there does not seem to be a singular formula for success, researchers have concluded that thriving downtowns include strong adjacent residential neighborhoods within walking distance, the presence of mixed-use development within the downtown area, and the use of historic preservation to help forge a special identity.

Retail, beautification and public amenities are also key components for successful downtowns, and certainly add to the desirability of having a downtown address. The River District Association is committed to promoting these aspects. The Urban Living Tour, like many other downtown events, gives residents an opportunity to shop the stores and eat in the restaurants in the downtown area. Many new establishments have opened in the past couple of years, and tour patrons are encouraged to shop and eat while in the area. Plan to make a day of it!

"Upstairs Downtown" leads to local Downtown Developer's Guide

Thousands of buildings in America’s older downtowns have vacant upper floors. In Illinois alone, an estimated more than 40,000 downtown buildings have upper floors that have sat vacant or underused for more than 30 years. Many of these buildings are in mid-size and smaller communities. These spaces have a central location, high visibility, complete community infrastructure, and are prime candidates for redevelopment.

In an effort to help communities combat the under-utilization of upper floors in historic downtown buildings, the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IHPA) developed a program titled “Upstairs Downtown.”

The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IHPA) will hold a workshop Friday, Sept. 7, with downstate’s Alton Marketplace to present the “Upstairs Downtown” program. Information about the workshop can be found at www.upstairsdowntown.org. The workshop addresses the economic, design, code, environmental, accessibility, marketing, management, insurance, and financing challenges entailed in bringing these historic buildings’ commercial upper floors back into full reuse. The presentations are augmented by real case studies demonstrating successful upper-floor rehabilitations, showcasing both large and small budgets, and a variety of uses, and are usually accompanied by a walking tour of upper floor rehabs.

On the local front, the River District has developed a book to help those interested in redevelopment of downtown historic buildings. The book is titled The Downtown Developer’s Guide, and addresses some of the same issues. The book will soon serve as a model for other Illinois communities in the Main Street organization. The Downtown Developer’s Guide is $35, and will be available for purchase at the Urban Living Tour.

Urban Living Tour site list

West of Rock River

William Brown Lofts, 228 S. Main St. Loft apartment for rent in historic building. Ticket sales location day of event.

Church Street Properties, 128 N. Church St. Office and apartment in historic building.

North Court Co-op, 534 and 530 N. Court St. Artist studios, residences and galleries. One for rent.

Rock River Tower Apartments, 913 N. Main St. Beautifully decorated two-bedroom with fantastic view.

Single-family historic home (for sale), 206 Franklin Place.

East of Rock River

Second-story apartments above JustGoods Fair Trade Market (finished and unfinished), 201 Seventh St. Ticket sales location day of event.

Lantow Lofts, 502 Seventh St. Condos under construction.

Second-story apartment above 5SPA (under construction), 508 E. State St.

Second-story apartment above Runner’s Image, 219 E. State St. from the Sept. 5 – Sept. 11, 2007, issue

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