By Jim Hagerty
ROCKFORD – The Embassy Suites Hotel and Conference Center project is officially underway downtown, and the past mayor and current one says a host of people are responsible for making it a reality.
“After several years of hard work, it’s incredibly exciting to know that financing for this important project is complete and construction will soon be underway,” former Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey said. “I can’t say enough about the great work of past and current staff members like Jim Ryan and Todd Cagnoni and Gary Gorman and his team. They all worked tirelessly with our City Council to get the project to this point. Finally, I’m extremely proud to have been able to work with Mayor McNamara, whose leadership was instrumental in securing Council approval of the City’s partnership with Gorman.”
Morrissey was mayor from 2005 to 2017.
McNamara was the Third Ward aldermen during the early iterations of the agreement with Wisconsin’s Gorman & Co. He saw it go from a project with a mutli-modal transportation hub that was to welcome back passenger rail after 30 years, to a questionable development with a shaky capital stack. McNamara calls it something else altogether today—something he says will spark a wave of expansion of the city’s core.
“This is a major turning point for our downtown,” McNamara said. “Between the jobs that will be created by construction and the hotel service jobs, this is going to have a great influence on the future of downtown Rockford and our citizens. I’m proud of the work done by the staff at the city who spent many hours, days, and years making this work for our city.”
The total cost of the project is $87.5 million. That includes $64 million Gorman will spend to build the hotel, $12.5 million from the city for the convention center, and what the developer has already spent on remediation. The city’s investment is coming from the 1 percent sales tax it collects from bars, hotels and restaurants.
“The hotel and conference center represent a true public-private partnership; one could not have been done without the other and many people pushed through five years of hard work to make it happen,” Gary Gorman said. “Special recognition needs to go to the Friends of Ziock group for saving this building to preserve the history of Rockford. “I want to extend a special thank you to former Mayor Larry Morrissey for his unwavering support of this project to overcome hurdles both financial and political in nature. His willingness to take time out of his personal life to travel overseas to bring capital sources to support the hotel is just one of many examples of how he worked so persistently to make this succeed.”
Gorman also praised McNamara for seeing the project through to the closing table.
“The City of Rockford is incredibly fortunate to have Mayor McNamara serving the Rockford community,” the CEO said.
Aside from losing the Amtrak part of the project, the fate of historic tax credits and the uncertainty of the federal EB-5 visa programs caused Gorman to rework financing since Rockford aldermen first approved the deal in 2014. Except for the train, that some say will return eventually, the other pieces came together earlier this year when the city council approved a new agreement.
The project is also being financed by CitiBank, Twain Financial Partners, Cedar Rapids Bank & Trust Company, Associated Bank and Rockford Local Development Corporation.
Gorman says he will break ground in the first quarter of 2018. Construction is expected to last about two years and create more than 300 construction jobs and more than 100 hotel and convention positions when the facility opens. R.