City, Fern release statement saying saving the building ‘not financially feasible’
By Jim Hagerty
DOWNTOWN — Although the top floor of the Hanley Building was razed Sunday, the building’s owners and the city had held out hope the structure could be saved. That hope has been extinguished following a joint-statement by Mayor Tom McNamara and Justin Fern, the owner of Hanley Lofts LLC, Tuesday night.
“The City of Rockford and Hanley Lofts LLC, have been working closely over the last 48 hours to determine the next steps for the Hanley Building,” the statement read.
“We also appreciate the work of the men and women of the Rockford Fire Department, who have continued to put out hot spots from the initial fire and maintained the public’s safety around the site since Sunday’s fire began.
“We have determined that a plan to repair and redevelop the existing structure is not financially feasible. Following these discussions, a decision was made to demolish the remainder of the building.
“While we are saddened to see this building come down, we are excited by the possibility that the space could be developed and continue the momentum we have been seeing downtown in the last several years. We will continue to work as partners in these redevelopment efforts.”
A fire engulfed the vacant five-story structure at 301 S. Main St. shortly before 1 p.m. Sunday, blanketing downtown with a thick cloud of smoke for most of the day.
By the time firefighters arrived, flames had spread through the first few floors as smoke poured from windows and out the roof.
“We (had) six engines and three ladders report,” McNamara said Monday of the crews who battled the blaze. “The cause is unknown and the investigation is ongoing. We have teamed up with the state fire marshal to make sure this investigation is immediate and thorough.”
The fire was still smoldering Tuesday morning as officials worked to decide the fate of the building.
The city had proposed demolishing the Hanley on Monday, citing safety concerns. Those talks were quieted briefly as Jeff Orduno, attorney for Fern’s Urban Equity Properties, asked leaders to explore the possibility of saving the Hanley.
Rockford architect Gary Anderson told the Rockford Register Star Tuesday most of the damage was to the fifth floor and that the south wall of that floor would have to be knocked down. The rest of the fifth floor had been razed by fire and demolition crews Sunday night.
Structurally, however, Anderson said, the building was intact. But the city and Urban Equity ultimately decided the 1901 building was beyond saving.
Fern’s Urban Equity Properties purchased the building in 2014 under the Hanley Lofts holding company. Fern had said he was sitting on the property pending the outcome of the Amerock hotel project across the street. He had contemplated redeveloping the Hanley Building into a hotel of his own but said it was likely to be a mixed-use retail and apartment complex to complement the Trust Building’s Burnham Lofts.
McNamara on Monday said the city and Fern had been discussing plans for the Hanley: “As recently as a couple weeks (ago), we were just talking about redeveloping that structure.”
A portion of Chestnut and South Main Street was still blocked off Tuesday afternoon and is not expected to be reopened until demolition work is complete. The adjacent J-Bears Place and Magpie Restaurant did not sustain any fire damage but remained closed while officials secured the area.
The building was built in 1901 as the Mead building, its name until 1950 when the Hanley Furniture Company turned it into a multi-floor furniture store. It remained as such until 1993 when the lower level then became the Fifth Precinct night club.
It housed Rockford Brewery Company from 1999 to 2000, a supper club for less than a month, and Lotsa Pasta from 2001 to 2002. Fern acquired the property in a three-company deal involving Urban Equity, the Gierson Group LLC of Genoa, and Yenom Inc. The details of that transaction have not been disclosed due to a settlement between Fern and the Gierson Group. R.
Managing Editor Shane Nicholson contributed to this report.