New currents in River District

By Frank Schier 
Editor & Publisher

The River District Association has a new captain: the Director of Marketing & Public Affairs for the Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau (RACVB), Josh Albrecht, and he has some hard building to follow.

He succeeds outgoing President Gary Anderson, our premier downtown architect whose achievements include the Prairie Street Brewhouse revitalizing our downtown riverfront, Richardson Building at State and Wyman, Crusader’s Community Health Building on Broadway, Garrison School Lofts, Urban Equities new achievements at 408 and 324 E. State, the in-progress Rockford Trust Building and the upcoming Gorman & Company, Inc.’s Ziock  project on Davis Park, to mention just a few of his recent projects. For the full scope of his work go to gwaarchitects.com/portfolio.

Not only is he an amazing architect, he has been an amazing president of the River District, bringing it back from disrepute and controversy to affection and action.

During the last River District mixer held at Stephanie Caltagerone’s very new and mod restaurant Magpie, 307 S. Main St., Anderson ran over some recent downtown mileposts.

  • 5,000 to 7,000 weekly visitors to Rockford’s City Market under the leadership of Cathy McDermott.
  • 2,500 volunteers for the two years of Sharefest under the leadership of Scott Sanders.
  • the amazing birth of new public sculptures all over downtown provided by RACVB, continuing the inventory provided by the Rockford Park District.
  • RACVB’s River Lights Project behind the Rockford Library and on Millennium Fountain path, by Luxe Productions of Rockford and sponsored by MercyRockford and individual contributions raised by Marge Bevers and others.
  • Private development of $40 million and $20 million under construction with more coming soon.
  • The $24.4 million UW Health Sports Factory will be open for this summer is a fantastic achievement of Rockford’s Reclaiming First, with primary leadership from the RACBB Executive Director John Groh and Rockford’s Park District’s Executive Director Tim Dimke.
  • The River District’s Association’s return to solvency and new membership, with its new Director Leah Tuneberg, following the fine work of Co Owner and Studio Director at 317 Studio and Gallery, Theresa Rowinski.
  • More retail shops and lofts than ever before downtown, with a new banquet facility on top of the old Rockford Furniture Building complete with a rooftop facility by the owners of Northwest Quarterly Magazine.
  • Gorman & Company has stated it is absolutely committed to the Ziock Hotel and Convention Center on Davis Park.
  • The ever improving Prairie Street Brewhouse project began in 2005 and was completed in 2014. That nine years of dedication by Loyd and Diane Koch, culminating in Rockford Brewing Company and Brewhouse Events with Chris Manuel, Reid Sjostrom and Dustin Koch.
  • The Rails to Trails transformation the railroad bridge south of the Fordham Dam, which will connect the new path by the UW Health Sports Factory and Morgan Street bridge to Davis Park.
  • The fine job by the City of Rockford on the road work and cleanup of Kishwaukee, South Main and West State streets. Improving street lighting and metering creates a standard of safety and expectation.
  • Loyd Koch said to me recently, “Have you seen the new marketing film Gary did? It’s fantastic!” Six more marketing film are being created about the Rock River experience – retail, residential, office and recreational spaces and opportunities. Anderson stressed the River District wants your stories.
  • Shop the Block has been very successful and will start earlier this year.
  • More special events improvement and planning are underway – perhaps a Taste of the River District?
  • While crime has been reported to be increasing all over the city, the River District’s statistics are not bad in comparison. Businesses are being more aggressive calling 911 and in combating panhandling.

After showing the new marketing film, co-produced by the River District and award-winning Rockford Park District multimedia specialist and RAMIs Hall of Fame Member Curt Johnsen, Anderson concluded, “We are capable of making this one of the greatest cities in the country, and I truly believe each one of us has to step up to the plate and foster event, restaurant and retail development.”

He then introduced his successor, Albrecht.

Albrecht worked in Dixon for seven years to develop their very successful Main Street Program, and he is still very much missed in that community. On a recent visit to Dixon, he was mentioned several times. The most salient comment about him was, “We knew we couldn’t keep him too long; he was too good.”

I can say personally since his arrival in Rockford last year, he has been very helpful to the Rock River Trail Initiative and is a great marketing advocate of the Rock River as a place to visit and stay. He gets the big picture. He did a wonderful job of the Stroll on State the last two years. Besides that, the staff at RACVB tell me they really like him. He’s got a good sense of humor and diplomacy.

“We have momentum downtown. The people make the place. I’ve met so many people who will push it forward and make it happen, and I look forward to working with everyone,” Albrecht said. “It a great honor to continue helping to build on the development and vibrancy downtown. I’m excited to get to work more closely with the shop owners and entrepreneurs who are staking a claim in the downtown core.”

Citing her love of Chicago and Rockford urban living and our possibilities, Director Tuneberg closed the meeting saying, “It’s a new atmosphere. Come join us.”

To join the River District go to riverdistrict.com/membership or call 779-207-0110.

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