Justin Fern’s Urban Equity Properties (UEP) purchased downtown Rockford’s iconic 13-story Talcott Building, 321 W. State St., March 31, 2014 for an undisclosed sum, reportedly in the area of $7 million.
UEP purchased the “skyscraper” from TRT Management, whose principal Dave Casazza, owned the building for 30 years. Casazza also owns Broadmoor Insurance Agency, located in the Talcott.
UEP now owns close to 600,000 square feet in Rockford’s downtown River District; and unlike other developers, UEP has boldly made several major stakes in the River District’s west side, totaling 300,000 square feet, with an equal amount on the east side.
“The purchase of this building reaches into the future of UEP’s commitment to downtown Rockford,” said Fern. “We see the River District as very viable and it’s value is increasing. Our critical mass is expanding. Look at our efforts in the 300 and 400 block of East State Street’s north side, including our purchase of the Chase Building on the 400 block’s south side. We also have property on First Street just north of East State. North and south, east and west, these investments are feeding each other. Everyone sees the increasing foot traffic and its all about critical mass, expanding out from our investments and adding to the success of the 500 block of East State Street.
“The Talcott will not be a changing development. It was bought as an investment. All the existing tenants will remain, and are secure in their leases. I have enjoyed meeting many of the lease holders, and I look forward to doing business with all of them. NIU Law is secure in their storefront, and resident’s lease on the 13th floor will continue.”
When asked about Amtrack’s uncertain status because of Gov. Rauner’s freeze on so many funds, Fern was still confident, stating, “The Rock River Towers was just sold to investors from the east coast for $8.2 million. An international firm is investing in the Ziock Building. Look at those expenditures, and tell me that Rockford is not on the national map plus.
“We are excited to see the progress of the Ziock Building,” Fern said. “I’m really excited about, and committed to both the east side and the west side of the river; its all the same to me; neither side is lessor or greater; but each is unique. That is why UEP is strong on both sides of the Rock River with it’s investments.
“I hope Gov. Rauner sees the importance of rail from Rockford to Chicago. I don’t believe that if we weren’t to get the Amtrack station here that it would kill the great momentum in downtown Rockford. Although, I do believe it could slow us down. I hope Gov. Rauner’s commitment to an increase in the business community will not let that happen,” Fern concluded.
As to the status and future of State of Illinois Historic Tax Credits which have enabled many of the development projects in the River District, they required completion by the end of 2016. That deadline has not been extended at this time, although Mayor Morrissey and others are lobbying for continuing the program.
For bad news, we have no immediate hope for development of the Rockford Watch Factory property; Chick Hotel, Elm and South Main streets; Rockford Office Supply, 119 S. Main St.; and the Murphy Family’s Rockford Space Freight Depot at Cedar and South Church streets. The controversial destruction of the Rockford School District 205’s old administration building/Rockford High School included the non-historic section of the Watch Factory, which involved eminent domain. Frantz Community Investors of Cedar Rapids, Iowa was looking at all three properties, but pulled out because the legal process of dealing with the eminent domain issue put in doubt if they could have their projects complete by the start of 2017 to use the crucial state historic tax credits.
“Unfortunately, with all the work and deadline required for the historic tax credits at this time, they thought they had to take a pass,” said Rockford City Administrator Jim Ryan. “We have been working with the state, and it’s our top legislative priority to get that passed. The sunset provision for the end of 2016 is the problem. We’d like to get that extended for as long as we can. That’s a matter of negotiation. Four to five years would be good, and it has been very successful with developing downtown. So we are lobbying the state very heavily to get that extended.”
When asked if the city would approach Frantz Community Investors to come back for the projects they declined, Ryan said, “Absolutely! We think they would be a good development partner downtown.”
Putting aside the negative and the doubt on the Amtrack arrival, as Fern pointed out, downtown development is getting very significant. We’ve all heard about the success and significant financial commitments of the east side’s Rockford Brewery and Marina (with it’s very successful event space and Dinner on the Docks series). Ad in the $15 million Downtown Sports Complex on the Rock River.
Besides the Talcott purchase, here’s a few other developments building enthusiasm on the west side of downtown.
As noted, the Rock River Towers, 913 N. Main St., was purchased by New Jersey’s Strategic Partners of North America for $8.2 million from River Tower Venture of Mukwonago, Wisconsin. In 1998, it was purchased for $2.5 million.
Rockford Trust Building, 202 W. State St., is being developed by Morgan Management, a Pittsfield, New York developer for a reported $12.5 million, with a purchase price of $1.7 million. Construction is slated to begin this summer.
The River District enjoyed a very timely save of the classic Pioneer/Conseco Insurance Building, 304 N. Main St.. The 50,000 square-foot office building was purchased by Kevin Holdmann’s expanding Trans Atlantic Connection, currently at 109 Main St. To see more about this vibrant Rockford company visit tacrockford.com.
Changing to other familiar hands is the Morrissey Building, 127 N. Wyman St. Joseph James Partners, 303 N. Main St., was listed as Agent in November of 2014 with the State of Illinois for North Wyman Pioneer Building , LLC. The new owners, reportedly a Saudi firm, supposedly paid $750,000 cash, and the building will be managed by SupplyCore.
SupplyCore/Joseph James Partners/Peter Provenzano’s potential development of the Trek Building at Mulberry and North Main streets is uncertain. Ryan said the status of the 60-day deadline with the City of Rockford is ongoing, saying, “We just met with them today [April 14], and we hope to have a development agreement for the [Rockford] City Council meeting on the 27th of this month.”
Other city development agreements with private developers downtown included negotiations with Wisconsin’s Gorman& Company, Inc., on the Ziock/Amerock Building at 416 S. Main Street.
Ryan said, “We need to work with them on the final project financing. We are looking at Section 108 financing, a HUD backed loan program, and we are looking at that for Cliffbreakers as well. We are farther along with Cliffbreakers. We have been working with them for the last year on that project.”
Chicago’s Aries Capital Management is the principal in Cliffbreakers Riverside Resort at 700 West Riverside Blvd.. They are seeking several million dollars to rehabilitate the hotel facilities, and they have already made significant investments, resulting in notable improvements to the restaurant facilities.
Other crucial investment opportunities on the River District’s west side that really need attention are the old Rockford Magazine Building at West State and Main street and the Elk”s Club at West Jefferson and North Main Street.
For more than 225 addresses for potential development visit development.ziock.org/properties/. The website states: “FOZ has compiled a “catalog” of properties believed to be in the Rockford River Edge Redevelopment Zone (RERZ). In addition, each property shown may or may not have “historic” status either by having been designated individually or by being located within a historic district.”
For other investment questions downtown, contact the River District Association, 779.207.0110, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Historic building links back to Lincoln
The 1968 Sinnissippi Saga: A History of Rockford and Winnebago County, Illinois by C. Hal Nelson sets the scene of the construction of the Talcott Building at 321 W. State St., in what is now the West Downtown Rockford Historic District. The Saga’s entry reads: “1926. Jefferson Street Bridge is completed. Lincoln Junior High School is opened, and construction begins on the 12-story Talcott Building in downtown Rockford.” The building is actually 13 stories.
Several sources state the Talcott replaced one of the oldest buildings downtown and it may have replaced a Masonic Temple.
The Talcott was designed by Howard Van Doren Shaw’s firm shortly after he died. Shaw was on the planning committee for Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, primarily designed by Daniel Burnham and Frederick Law Olmsted. Perhaps that is why one source also lists the architects as Daniel Burnham, Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, and its architectural style as Italianate, Classical Revival, Art Deco.
Jon W. Lundin in his 1996 work, Rockford: An Illustrated History notes the building was completed in “1927 and matched the height of the Ziock [Amerock] Building to the south and laid claim to being the tallest office building in the city.”
Wait Talcott, the building’s developer, also became the president of the Nelson Knitting Company and was elected a state senator.
Talcott was also an investor in J. H. Manny & Co. a reaper manufacturer with his brother Sylvester along with Jess Blinn and Ralph Emerson. Emerson was the cousin of the famous author/poet and leader of the philosophic and literary Transcendentalists movement, Ralph Waldo Emerson.
In 1855, Cyrus McCormick (extended family eventually owned the Chicago Tribune and the Rockford Daily Register-Gazette, now the daily paper) filed the patent violation case McCormick v. Manny. He did so because Manny’s reaper had beaten the McCormick reaper at the World’s Columbian Exposition.
Manny and Talcott hired Atty. Edwin M. Stanton, whom retained Illinois lawyer Abraham Lincoln as a co-counsel. Lincoln came to Rockford to argue the case, but the suit was eventually moved to Cincinnati, and Lincoln had little to do with the case proceeding to the Supreme Court. Although Manny and Talcott won the case, Manny died soon after, reportedly from the stress of the ordeal.
Later developments include:
- Manny’s widow Mary Dorr Manny was one of the first women in the country to be involved in the management of a major company, and she married Robert Tinker who built Tinker’s cottage .
- McCormick’s reaper company evolved into International Harvester and Manny’s evolved into Talcott, Emerson & Company and eventually J.I. Case, which was just west of Tinker Cottage.
- Stanton became Lincoln’s Secretary of War, and figures prominently in assassination conspiracy theories. He took control of the government after the shooting. Stanton is accredited with the famous “Now he belongs to the ages” and “There lies the most perfect ruler of men the world has ever seen.”