Historic tax credits for Rockford renewed

By Shane Nicholson 
Managing Editor

ROCKFORD — A tax credit program that has seen more than $125 million in outside investment captured for Rockford has been extended through 2021.

The River Edge Historic Preservation Tax Credit was signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner Friday, after sitting on his desk since June. Hailed as a key economic stimulator in five cities across the state, the bill has been touted with creating a $10 return for every $1 of credit used on the redevelopment of historic buildings.

State Sen. Steve Stadelman, D-Rockford, had sponsored the bill, calling it a boost to the economic development of the region.

“The River Edge tax credit has been an important tool in the revitalization of downtown Rockford,” Stadelman said Friday. “It turns vacant, rundown buildings into marketable properties, creates jobs and grows the economy. Developers will be happy to know this incentive will be available through 2021.”

The former Dec. 31, 2017 sunset date for the tax credits had left questions looming over some downtown projects, including the Amerock hotel plan. But the developer of the hotel, Milwaukee’s Gorman and Co., had sought and received assurances that the credits would be extended for the duration of the project.

Currently, the River Edge Redevelopment Zone covers a large portion of downtown Rockford and some adjacent neighborhoods. Urban Equity Properties’ recent renovation of the former Rockford Trust Building utilized more than $2 million in credits under the program. And the tax credits have been used extensively in other keystone redevelopment projects for the city, from the Prairie Street Brewhouse to the Rockford Police District 2 substation at the former Turner School.

“A focal point and attraction for entertainment in the downtown area is (the) Prairie Street Brewhouse, which benefited from the River Edge Redevelopment program,” said Republican State Rep. Joe Sosnowski. “Continuation of this program will allow our area to revive blighted buildings, create jobs, and stimulate economic development.”

The River Edge zone has allowed more local properties to be captured under the state’s Enterprise Zone, a similar tax credit program—albeit one not centered around historic structures. The Enterprise Zone allows a set number of contiguous square mileage of city properties to be covered under its boundaries. As the two zones are not allowed to overlap, city leaders have credited the River Edge plan with allowing the Enterprise Zone to extend to further points in the community, including the airport.

Supporters had worried that the River Edge program would become a casualty of the state’s long-lasting budget battle. The program was initially set to expire in Dec. 2016 before a one-year extension was granted.

Tax credits from the program have been used to spur developments in Aurora, East St. Louis, Elgin and Peoria, which has seen extensive work done throughout its warehouse district and riverfront. In Aurora, a vacant senior living center was rehabilitated as part of a $24 million project. Aurora Mayor Richard C. Irvin called the plan an “integral bill that will potentially create hundreds of jobs and tens of millions of dollars in economic development in the state’s second-largest city.”

Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara echoed his sentiments. “The incentive has helped us fill vacant properties and attract new capital investment to the city, while, at the same time, preserving culturally and architecturally significant buildings.”

The bill, a bi-partisan package, was a bit of a political rarity in Springfield’s current climate. Democrats and Republicans representing heavily populated and demographically diverse cities were able to see the benefits of the plan for their districts. State Sen. Pamela Althoff, R-McHenry, a co-sponsor of the bill, called it an important step toward saving our state’s heritage.

“For years, I have been a strong advocate for historic preservation, not only so that we can keep our history alive, but also because of the economic impact these sites have on our communities here in Illinois,” she said. “By preserving local history, we are also supporting and promoting economic development.”

Rockford Republican State Sen. Dave Syverson said he was “thrilled” to see the plan extended through 2021. “These tax credits support the types of projects that offer the taxpayers of this state the chance to get a huge return on their investment in terms of tax revenue and economic activity.”

The governor said signing another extension to the plan was the right move for the state.

“This program has already been a huge success,” Rauner said. “The River Edge Redevelopment Zone Program helps stimulate the state’s economy and the local economies where the program is available.”

“Today is an important day for the continued development and economic reinvestment in downtown Rockford,” said State Rep. Litesa Wallace, D-Rockford. “The Historic River Edge Tax Credit has been instrumental in starting construction projects, creating jobs, and transforming empty buildings into centers of activity. With numerous projects dependent on the passage of this extension, today’s action immediately makes our community more attractive to investment.”

The bill is Illinois SB1783. R.

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