Judson architectural students aid in downtown redevelopment vision
By Jim Hagerty
A group of Judson University architectural graduate students set up shop in Rockford last week to help a group of developers and city officials realize a new vision for the redevelopment of downtown.
Housed in a makeshift design headquarters at 221 E. State St., the group of recent graduates were handpicked by members of Rock River Development Partnership and Montreal, Canada, consultant Live Work Learn Play.
Maps, cityscape renderings and photographs lined the walls inside the building as students, led by Judson Professor Dr. Christopher Miller, collaborated with developers and the consulting team.
Students worked full days May 3-7.
Much of the work created was based on what is downtown now. While some renderings were elaborate and involved re-designing storefronts and adding rooftop gardens, other ideas were as simple as planting additional trees along East State Street. Each championed the goal of making downtown a vibrant area where merchants can work together and customers can enjoy year-round activities.
“The goal is to start with something small,” Miller said. “There is already several successful restaurants in this area and the idea is to find small things first, asking yourself, ‘How do you build on that?’”
Miller said developers and city officials envision downtown a family-oriented area that will make substantial positive impressions on the rest of the city.
Live Work Learn Play, hired in part by Rock River Development Partnership and the city, has been studying downtown and its potential to attract a variety of demographics. Its vision mirrors that of developers who plan to turn downtown into an activity hub, led by the addition of mixed-used buildings and condominium units. These developments will increase the number of residents, which, in turn, would add economic opportunity for area retailers.
“By just filling in holes in the citycape,” Miller added, “things will start looking better very quickly. Some of the buildings down here are structured for more floors and some could even be converted into condominium plots. With that, you would have people living downtown, paying market rate. These are the people that will start using the new restaurants and making existing businesses more successful.”
Judson renderings will eventually be presented to community leaders and the public for their input. Developers hope to have the downtown well on its way to redevelopment within the next the three to five years.
Meantime, one developer is slightly a step ahead of the game downtown. Urban Equity Properties, which recently redeveloped the former Rockford Illustration building at 317 Market St. and the Shell Smith building—now Lofts 321 at 317-325 W. Jeffererson St.—has begun another downtown facelift at 110 N. First St.
Formerly the Gentleman’s Club, the 110 N. First St. building will feature two second-floor loft apartments, above an entire floor of creative office space with availability in the $13-per-square-foot range.
“The apartments will have rooftop access, private patios, hardwood floors and stainless (steel) appliances,” Justin Fern of Urban Equity Properties said. “Each apartment will be about 800 square feet.”
Fern said, as with each of the firm’s projects, much of the original design will preserved and the lofts will rent in the $800 to $900 range.
Urban Equity Properties is also aiming to bring its efforts to the southern edge of downtown. The team is eying property near the old South Main Street rail yard and the Roper Whitney building.
“[South Main] would be a phenomenal redevelopment,” Fern said of the building that once housed Lorden Distributing on South Main Street.
From the May 12-18, 2010 issue
Print This Article