By Stuart R. Wahlin
The Rockford City Council’s Planning and Development Committee laid over a vote March 15 to recommend whether the city should proceed with the $409,000 purchase of the former Amerock and Tapco buildings along the downtown riverfront.
City leaders say they want to take the destinies of the properties into Rockford’s hands instead of leaving the vacant buildings to the whims of private owners, but another deal may be in the works for the buildings.
Under one plan being considered by the committee, the city would pursue federal funds to demolish the buildings. For the moment, though, that plan is on hold.
Meantime, city leaders will hear details from developers interested in redeveloping the site into a convention center, hotel and retail space. For that project, the Amerock building would be remodeled, and the Tapco building would be razed.
Ricky Trinidad, a Chicago-based developer from Rock River Live, Inc., representing undisclosed investors, explained: “We’ve been putting together a development plan for the downtown area of Rockford that incorporates several buildings within downtown Rockford.
“Basically, the last couple months, we went in to put in an LOI [letter of intent] to acquire one of the buildings, which is the Amerock building, which is an instrumental part of our plan, and we found that the city has a letter of intent to purchase the same property.”
Trinidad cited a number of other downtown improvements, such as the return of rail, as reasons for excitement about investing in the area.
“We have a number of financial investors backing us, and we’re very qualified and prepared to do a great job,” he said. “I believe that now is the time for us to really help be a part of this radical change that’s about to happen in downtown Rockford.”
The Tapco and Amerock buildings have been the focus of proposed redevelopment for years. Most recently, in 2009, Las Vegas-based Crystal Properties Holdings expressed a desire to turn the Amerock building into a sports and entertainment multiplex.
That plan disappeared quietly, but some say the new pitch rings suspiciously familiar.
Melissa Francis, president of Rockford Web Group, Inc., said her company was contracted by Crystal Properties for public relations work and presentations to municipal leaders, as well as virtual tours and renderings of the proposed multiplex.
As part of Rockford Web Group’s efforts on Crystal’s behalf, the Web site RockRiverLive.com was launched.
“Whoever this Ricky Trinidad is, is not in any way affiliated with us. They just incorporated Rock River Live [Inc.] like three weeks ago, and we believe that they’re using our information,” Francis said of the Rock River Live name. “Mine and my other officers in my company—that was our idea. We came up with that name to help promote for Crystal.”
Francis said her company was never paid by Crystal for its work, however.
“We’re owed a very large amount of money, and we’ve not seen a penny for any of our man hours,” she indicated. “We’ve actually tried to contact [Crystal Properties Holdings CEO Peter Anello] numerous times, and we haven’t heard back from him in two months regarding any payment, any payment plan, nothing.”
Asked whether she suspected the same investors from the Crystal Properties deal are behind the new offer, Francis leaned toward the affirmative.
“I think you’re dealing with some of the same players, yes,” she responded. “The problem I’m having is…this is something very new that I didn’t even know about, and I have the feeling that it’s some of the same masterminds, I guess you could say.”
She added, “I just know that the people behind them are the same people that brought Crystal to me.”
There are indications pointing to Rock River Live, Inc.’s links with the dissolved Crystal Properties proposal from last year.
City Legal Director Patrick Hayes reported: “Right in their agreement, they indicate that they’re working with the Robinson Brothers, for instance, which was the environmental firm involved in the last proposal, but our due diligence is showing that there is no existing contract there. And while they’ve heard of Mr. Trinidad, it’s only through the folks who were working the last deal.”
Meantime, Hayes said, the city is looking into Trinidad’s other business interests.
“He’s got a lot of projects, which a lot of developers do right now that are in a lot of trouble,” Hayes said. “It does not look very good. …We haven’t found any positive references yet.
“What’s disappointing is that it doesn’t seem that we can find that there’s a stable business process out there headed by Mr. Trinidad at the moment,” Hayes added. “Many developers are finding themselves in that predicament. Particularly with regard to this issue, it’s a problem.”
Hayes said the city has also requested financial information about the investors, including past projects, and if there was ever a prior agreement with Crystal Properties. Trinidad has not responded to the request, Hayes noted.
A call to Trinidad Development, Inc. in Chicago yielded a disconnected number.
The Rock River Times phoned Anello to inquire whether there is any affiliation between last year’s proposed deal and the new development offer.
Anello would not comment.
Although the idea of private investment in a hotel and convention center sounds like a dream come true, it’s a dream the city has learned to grow weary of.
“The concern we have here is that we’ve been here before with this building, with developers without the capacity to do the work, interrupting any kind of efforts to get the property to a condition where it can be developed,” Hayes said. “It’s just very disappointing that we’re here again.”
He added, “Clearly, staff believes that the best thing for us to do to impose some sanity on the future of those parcels is for the city, with a mind towards it being a short-term process, gaining control of them so that there isn’t any profiteering going on and whatnot, and we get a sensible, sane approach to getting a project up and running and moving forward.”
From the March 17-23, 2010 issue