Belvidere hopes to spark development with riverfront hotel

By Jim Hagerty
Contributor

BELVIDERE — While it is not on the Rock River—and likely will not come with as much contention as the Amerock Embassy Suites project downtown Rockford—the National Sewing Machine building could soon be a hotel overlooking the Kishwaukee River in Belvidere.

Like the Amerock, National Sewing Machine has rich regional manufacturing history. With roots in Boston, the company briefly had its headquarters in Chicago before moving to Belvidere in 1886, where it sparked a 30-percent population growth as the city’s largest employer until 1953.

During those years, National Sewing Machine weathered the Great Depression by capitalizing on its Vindex line of cast-iron toys while the demand bottomed out on sewing machines. The company also made bicycles, food grinders, washing machines, and various novelty items. A 1953 merger Free Sewing Machine saw the company unable to compete with manufacturers overseas, a difficulty that precipitated its 1957 closing. Most of the buildings were torn down by 1965. Various tenants, including Leath Furniture, have the remaining structures as warehouse space after that. With the exception of a hardware store in one of National Sewing small buildings, it sits largely unused today.

A 1953 merger with Free Sewing Machine saw the company unable to compete with manufacturers overseas, a difficulty that precipitated its 1957 closing. Most of the buildings were torn down by 1965. Various tenants, including Leath Furniture, used the remaining structures as warehouse space after that. With the exception of a hardware store in one of National Sewing’s small buildings, it sits largely unused today.

That could now change with what is being estimated as an up-to $30 million project to turn into a hotel and banquet facility.

“We think history is an important thing for people to hold on to,” Belvidere Mayor Mike Chamberlain told media. “So, this would be a nice thing to be able to get to do.”

A developer is now being sought for the project through a recent request for proposal. Rockford preservationist Marge Bevers, along with Don Bissell and others who worked on the Amerock plans through Friends of Ziock, is part of the National Sewing RFP team assembled by Gary W. Anderson Architects.

“Gary invited us to work on the research, writing and layout of the RFP for the property,” Bevers said. “We agreed to volunteer with the same commitment we had when working on the Ziock-Amerock Building here in Rockford. This is a fascinating building. We want to see it back on the tax rolls and not torn down.”

As the building is not in the River Edge Redevelopment Zone as with Amerock, the project would not come with state tax credits. But the project is available for about $3 million in federal ones.

The City of Belvidere bought the property in 2009. If a developer doesn’t come to the table, the city will spend $1 million to demolish what remains. R.

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