By Jim Hagerty
ROCKFORD — A fire caused heavy damage to a second Rockford building within a week, as firefighters battled a blaze at 301 7th St. Sunday.
Officials say the fire started somewhere in the back of the three-story home of El Olivo Grocery and was contained to the top two floors, which are vacant. The cause of the fire is unknown.
Witnesses say there were numerous people lighting fireworks in the area before the flames were spotted in the rear of the store around 11:30 p.m.
Rockford Fire Chief Derek Bergsten said more than 40 firefighters were called to the scene and battled the blaze until after 2 a.m., Monday. Estimated damage is not known.
The building is owned by Graf Enterprises and is valued at $79,640, according to the Winnebago County Treasurer. The grocery store remained closed Monday night. The site has not disrupted the Fourth of July parade, which utilizes the Rockford Public School’s 7th Street parking lot as a float staging area.
Fire officials are still investigating the cause of the June 25 fire that resulted in the demolition of the Hanley Furniture building at 301 S. Main St. That building, owned by Hanley Lofts LLC, was being tapped for a major redevelopment project by Urban Equity Properties, which recently turned Rockford’s Trust Building into an upscale apartment complex.
The company had planned a similar project at Hanley that included a ground-floor restaurant. The building is currently being demolished while adjacent business, including J-Bears Place and Magpie, also sustained damage and remain closed indefinitely.
“They started with the hand demo of the south wall and the fifth floor,” Urban Equity Properties’ Justin Fern said. “They then (proceeded) with the heavy equipment on the remaining four floors.”
Fern said the Hanley property will be used as green space temporarily. There are other possibilities in the future but said a parking lot is currently not one of them.
“It would be an expensive parking lot,” Fern said.”Parking lot revenue barely covers expenses. And when we have millions of dollars in it, it doesn’t make any sense.”
Fern bought the Hanley property in 2014 for $355,000. His losses are expected to exceed $1 million. Tuesday’s parade has been rerouted to avoid the Hanley site.
Another fire just north of downtown Rockford engulfed a Loves Park business Saturday as crews battled a blaze at Kar Korner, 4925 N. 2nd St. Officials say the building is a total loss. The business is expected to re-open Wednesday with a temporary office.
Rockford Fire says while having multiple fires in the area is common, it’s something the department is looking into. R.