Rockford's Independent Newspaper

Clock Tower demo underway

By Jim Hagerty

ROCKFORD — The piece of property where the Clock Tower Resort sits will become just that–a parcel of land–in about four months, as demolition of the once-iconic facility began Monday.

It could be at least a year or two before the land redeveloped, however.

The 21-acre parcel was being primed for a casino last year, but Rockford was left out of the state’s gambling expansion bill. That meant that the investment group that purchased the shuttered hotel and conference center wouldn’t be breaking ground any time soon.

That doesn’t mean that Rockford is at a total loss without the facility and its giant tower standing high alongside Interstate 90. Leaders say the demolition marks another chapter in the city’s history.

“I am thrilled that the demolition of the former Clock Tower begins a new era and entrance for our city,” Mayor Tom McNamara said. “It creates optimism that this location can become something very special.”

There’s no question that the Clock Tower’s location played an integral part in its longtime success. It was a flagship development that spawned several east-side hotels and restaurants. The once-famous Time Museum made it a worldwide attraction.

When Ringland-Johnson Construction CEO Brent Johnson, along with a group of investors, purchased the Clock Tower in May 2017 for $3.6 million, the building was condemned. But as Rockford’s tourism industry continues to thrive, the possibilities are vast even if a casino isn’t in the cards.

A new hotel and convention center is a possibility as well as restaurants and large-scale retail aimed at interstate traffic.

Built by Rockford industrialist Seth Atwood, the Clock Tower opened in 1968. His family sold it in 1999. A slow, followed by a steady decline followed. The building was sold three times since the Regency Hotel Management bought it from the Atwoods. The last owner to operate the Clock Tower as a hotel was Allied Hospitality. CoCo Key indoor water park and Titled Kilt were part of the package when Allied bought the Clock Tower in 2011 for $4.8 million.

But poor building maintenance and a slew of code violations plagued the aging facility during Allied’s ownership. And the biggest black mark on the facility was a 2016 shooting that left a 23-year-old man dead during a large party at the hotel.

The new ownership group includes Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen and Dotty’s CEO Dan Fischer. Whatever they settle on for the property won’t be the first time Nielsen and Johnson have mulled an entertainment venue. They were part of the group that proposed a Cheap Trick and rock-themed facility called Rick’s Place back in 2008. The recession spiked the project. Nielsen, however, remains a partner in the Stockholm Inn.

Four of Dotty’s 44 Chicagoland locations are in the Rockford area.

If Rockford is approved for a casino, a license would include a $100,000 flat fee and $30,000 per gambling station – per seat at each table and in front of each slot machine.

The Time Museum At-a-Glance

1971: The Clock Tower’s Time Museum opens and begins the journey to becoming the world’s most complete collection of timekeepers.

1982: The Atwood family adds an additional wing, making the facility a 3,000-item horological museum complete with library and conservation department.

1999: Atwoods sells Clock Tower, including museum space, to Regency Hotel Management for $11 million. Clocks were intended for Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. When those plans soured, they were sold at auction, scattering them around the world among private collections and other public displays.

2010: Seth Atwood dies at the age of 92. His companies employed more than 2,500 people during his lifetime. R.

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