Friends of Ziock continues push for change

From Friends of Ziock
Guest Column

In February 2010, stories began to appear in print quoting Jim Ryan (City Administrator), stating that the City intended to seek permission and funding to tear down both the Ziock-Amerock and the neighboring Tapco Buildings.  A huge fan of the Ziock and its many rooftop views, Don Bissell was concerned enough to talk to friends and approach the Mayor. On Good Friday, 2010 (April 3), the Mayor visited at the Richardson Building to talk with Don and Kyle/Marge Bevers.  He assured us that ‘he was the preservation Mayor’ and had worked hard to save the building. He did cite obstacles to redevelopment: large scale of the project and current weak economic conditions. He said nothing about approval of funding for demolition. Something didn’t feel quite right…

We three trio reached out to others, including the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IHPA). We learned that the City had already received permission on March 23 from the State to use CDBG funds to acquire and demolish the Ziock Building. But interested citizens could impact the outcome, and early organizers of FOZ were determined to try.

After extensive historic research, FOZ organizers submitted on 20 Jun 2010 to the IHPA a Request for Determination, the first step in the application for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. On 1 Jul 2010 the IHPA wrote to the City, enjoining them from demolition until three issues were addressed: 1) structural integrity; 2) prior marketing; and 3) historic significance. (See attached copy)

FOZ held its first meeting on 8 Jul 2010; an application for historic status on the Ziock Building was submitted in September 2010.

The IHPA was responsible to negotiate a Memo of Agreement (MOA) with the City of Rockford; they insisted that FOZ be included as a signatory.  The City (focused on demolition, not redevelopment) wanted a six month term before demolition; the State and FOZ, a much longer period. Negotiations were lengthy.

Well into the application process and feeling assured of success, we had hoped to gain the confidence and support of the Mayor. But on 5 April 2011 the Mayor and officials of Rock River Development Partners (RRDP), headed by Peter Provenzano (President of SupplyCore and longtime Morrissey campaign supporter), met with leaders of FOZ to request permission (as required of all signatories to the MOA then under negotiation) to tear the building down to accommodate a proposed SwedishAmerican Hospital cancer center. FOZ Leaders were not supportive but promised to approach the full membership on 7 April; at that meeting, members concurred.  These discussions took place just one month before the approval of the application for status (7 May 2011) and listing of the Ziock Building on the Federal Register.  The MOA was finally signed in Mar 2012: terms allowed that we had one year to market and six months for negotiations and stipulated no changes without agreement of all parties.  FOZ was to participate fully in the planning and marketing.

 

Next Steps

Aside from the terms of the MOA, the FOZ membership was clear we could not simply walk away: to secure a permanent future for the building we needed to reach out for a developer. While we had come together to save a building, we soon determined the greater goal was to remove this building from the public ‘dole’ and return it to the tax rolls!

Various teams worked on a 1) financial model for the project; 2) marketing materials and communications; and 3) the identification of prospective developers. On 9 Jun 2011 FOZ stopped long enough to celebrate and hold a media conference on our progress. Over time, more than three dozen FOZ members participated in various activities, research, sales and marketing.

Assisting with outreach to prospects was the passage of Illinois legislation (summer 2011) to provide 25% State tax credits on top of the existing 20% in federal credits.  While FOZ supported this legislation, chief credit goes to the City administration and the leaders of the other four cities which now have hundreds of buildings eligible for credits inside a state-designated district called the River Edge Redevelopment Zone (RERZ); this program is set to sunset on 31 Dec 2016.

By 2012, both our website on historic status of the Ziock Building (www.ziock.org) and a second for developers (www.development.ziock.org) were available. Over the next few years, we continued to expand the resources offered on the developers’ website: a searchable list of 220 properties within the RERZ (eligible for State HTC) with photos, map and full info as to historic status; a partial list of FOZ membership and the $25.5 million of development they had achieved by 2013; a copy of our proposed Request for Information (RFI), marketing Prospectus, (financial) pro forma and floor plans of the Ziock Building.  One resource not posted to the internet is the hotel room survey (shared with Hunden, the firm charged with the market study for the proposed hotel) of nearly 40 businesses interested in downtown accommodations.  The bottom line: these businesses accounted for nearly 29,000 room nights in 2013! (This survey was conducted after FOZ members were unable to secure from Peter Provenzano a copy of the hotel study funded by public partners and RRDP the prior year.)  Members further conducted calls to create a list of prospective tenants for the building (including three commercial prospects); these were provided to the chosen developer. FOZ also provided key leadership and volunteers for “Raise the Roof” (a fundraiser for the Laurent House), sponsored by RAAR in Aug 2013.

Most critical was the outreach to prospective developers which began in early 2012 with the first two visits in February, and two more the next month. The City was invited and participated in several early developer meetings.  Over time, we hosted six firms in Rockford and conducted extended discussions with two others. The visitors hail from Boston, Cedar Rapids, Chicago, Kansas City, Madison, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and the Quad Cities  We continue to keep in touch with more than a dozen of our original target list of five dozen U.S. firms, occasionally expanding our list with referrals or calls from developers.

Information from calls/visits was passed on to the City. In early 2013, we shared with the Mayor the results of research on EB-5 funding from experts from California and Washington. Sadly, this communication was almost exclusively one-way (FOZ to City), although direct questions asked by FOZ were answered.

While it was agreed that a request for proposal/info/quotation would be issued; several of the early developers indicated a preference for an exclusive contract.  One of these was Gorman & Co (Madison, WI).  Two Gorman executives visited Rockford on 20 Mar 2012. In a May 18 Letter of Interest to the City, Gorman requested an exclusive on the property and a pause in our 18-month MOA timeline.  During the pause, FOZ continued work with other developers on properties eligible for State HTCs.  The pause was extended and effectively continues today.

FOZ members agreed to assist Gorman through project completion. In early 2013 we considered our next goals. One of the areas of concern was the designated historic properties near the future Ingersoll sports center. We sought a ‘win-win’: City gets their parking and some project savings, a developer gets a project to scale (creating construction jobs) while returning the Watch Factory and District #205 buildings to the tax rolls. That was the focus of discussions with the Foutch Bros. (Kansas City). This firm is experienced in sports facility construction/rehab and historic preservation. They were interested in all three buildings: Ingersoll, Watch Factory and District #205. After several visits that summer and more conversation in the fall, we approached the Mayor at a private meeting in Jan/Feb 2014 to suggest a call or visit as early as possible. He was not interested in any contact with Foutch Bros., telling us that plans were too far along and demolition of the Watch Factory and school Building. were imminent.

The buildings, of course, were demolished in Feb and Mar 2015.

On 20 Feb 2015, Frantz Community Investors (FCI) submitted a Letter of Interest to redevelop the Watch Factory, the Old Freight Depot on Cedar St. and the Chick Hotel across from BMO Harris Bank Center. To offer attractive amenities and make their financial plan work, FCI wanted to retain both the original and the historic red brick portion of the Watch Factory. At the 2 Mar 2015 City Council meeting, the alderman voted – without the benefit of the FCI letter – to approve a contract to demolish all but the original section of the watch factory. Frank Beach, an alderman who attended the 10 Mar 2015 meeting between city staff and the developer, voiced concern that if they had had that letter, the vote might have been different.

The 10 Mar 2015 meeting included senior City staff (other than the Mayor or Jim Ryan), two Rockford alderman (Tom McNamara and Frank Beach), officials of Frantz Community Investors (Cedar Rapids, IA), their architect, Gary Anderson, and FOZ representative, Don Bissell.  The meeting (from 1:30 to 3:00 PM) was called to discuss their Feb letter of interest. This meeting ended with a handshake-agreement to take another week to explore options. Within an hour of adjournment, the first wrecking ball fell on the Watch Factory; this action was ordered by the Mayor.

 

Looking Ahead

In addition to working with developers, FOZ has tackled two other historic preservation concerns:

Gaining historic status for eligible buildings not currently designated as historic: Research was completed for the Hanley Building. and given to the developer, Urban Equities.  Research was completed on the Old Freight Depot; we submitted a preliminary evaluation and received approval to submit an application for listing on the National Register.  As soon as a developer is in place, a professional writer is ready to prepare the application, hopefully with adequate time to complete a project by the 31 Dec 2016 expiration of the State HTC. We also received approval to submit on the Condon Bros – R. H. Shumway Building. on Cedar Street. The application on this property will be in Springfield before the end of March. From that point on, a developer is authorized to begin the Part I and II of the HTC application for a project on that building.

Extension of State HTCs: At a summer 2014 FOZ meeting, member Chad Tuneberg suggested a briefing for state Senators and Representatives on the value of the State HTCs.  He was invited to chair this effort and did, working with Mike Delany and Ray Melton. On Nov 17 at the Prairie Street Brewhouse, FOZ hosted the following legislators: Sen. Dave Syverson, Senator Steve Stadelman; Rep. John Cabello; Rep. Joe Sosnowski and representatives from the offices of US Rep Adam Kinzinger and Rep Cheri Bustos. Presenters were FOZ members Gary Anderson/AIA, Justin Fern/Urban Equities and Don Longwell/HTC expert and preservation developer from Ohio. By the end of the meeting, all present were convinced of the positive value of the HTC program. Several promised that same day to help lead the charge in Springfield; their names appear on the bill as co-sponsors. Kudos to all who are actively advocating for passage: Landmarks Illinois (who produced the widely distributed fact sheet); City of Rockford and the other four RERZ-district cities; the American Institute of Architects (AIA), among many others. But we are also proud of the contribution of our team to the effort.

From our 2010 formation, the goal of FOZ remains to protect historic properties by returning them to the tax rolls. This will help improve our tax assessed valuations and relieve some property tax burden on homeowners – and preserve our history in the bargain.  We recognize that cost cutting over the past 10 years has forced deep cuts to the City staff responsible for economic development. We have always wanted to work with the City administration, hoping to help with the sales/marketing and other appropriate tasks too much for the overburdened staff

We knew we first needed to convince a skeptical administration, Council and general public that these architectural/historic gems were worth the effort, returning to the community about $7 for each tax credit dollar. Our commitment and morale has never waivered, even in the face of sometimes withering public attacks. We seem to have turned the corner with most critics following the approval of the hotel project in the Ziock Building.  When that property changes hands this spring (from the City to Gorman), we hope the rest of the naysayers will be converted.

But to be truly successful, we need to have an open, collaborative relationship with the Mayor and his senior staff – and to count on basic courtesy for everyone!  On this front, we have a very long way to go.

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