By Jim Hagerty
ROCKFORD – Two local players are now weighing in on how the bidding process is panning out on a downtown development next to where the new library will be built.
The adjacent property is at 227 N. Wyman St., the vacant commercial building Rockford Public Library purchased in 2017 for $300,000 from an owner in Elgin. Officials say it is not a viable building and needs to be torn down. A $25 million, six-story mixed-use building will be built in its place, according to a plan by Davenport, Iowa-based Bush Construction gave to the library board earlier this year.
Bush, which is seeking a construction contract on the new library, was the sole respondent to the Rockford Public Library’s request for qualifications (RFQ) for the mixed-use project. And now local developers are wondering why.
“I’ve got two issues thus far,” Urban Equity Properties President Justin Fern said. “First, I don’t believe the process was fair. Why were out-of-town developers contacted and local developers were not?”
Peter Provenzano, CEO of SupplyCore and president of Joseph James Partners, said he was also not aware that the new library or the property next door was open for takers.
“We did not bid, nor were we made aware of any bidding process for the new library project in Rockford,” Provenzano said.
Provenzano’s entities own a number of downtown properties, including neighboring 303 N. Main St., and 127 N. Wyman St.
Rockford Public Library Executive Director Lynn Stainbrook said before the RFQ was issued, her nephew, who works for Hendricks Holding Co., of Beloit, put her in touch with the company’s head of development about how to initiate things.
“I was using the network of people I knew to get some help on a topic I didn’t know much about,” she said. “They suggested it should be an RFQ.”
Stainbrook said the board opted for an RFQ instead of a request for proposal (RFP) because an RFP can limit what the development can be.
“The idea is to let developers do what developers do,” she said. “It’s best to let them figure out how to use the property and what can best be done with the property. An RFQ offers a lot of options.”
Stainbrook said she took the advice–free consulting–from Hendricks because the company was not interested in the project. She said the board reached out to two Chicagoland developers who expressed no desire to take it on.
Stainbrook added that the aim was to keep historic 227 N. Wyman until Bush presented leaders with an analysis that showed it is not structurally sound. She said local developers have had more than a decade to come to the table with plans, including after the RFQ was published in local newspapers.
“I can’t believe they didn’t know,” she said.
Library officials announced in 2016 that the building at 227 N. Wyman would be demolished and the property used for a staging area for environmental cleanup under the existing library. Plans to build a new mixed-use building at that address were not part of that announcement.
Mayor Tom McNamara said Friday that the most qualified developer should be chosen to take on the project and that local companies should have been included in the process from the beginning.
“Our local folks are very good at what they do, and they should have, or should have had, the opportunity to respond, and the same opportunity to respond that any outside company had,” the mayor said. “I am actively looking at the process that they went through. If it was not a transparent process, if local folks didn’t get the same opportunity that a company from Iowa or California got, that’s a shame.”
Fern, whose company specializes in restoring historic buildings, said his fear is that 227 N. Wyman will be unnecessarily razed.
“That’s the second issue I have,” he said. “Over the years, the city of Rockford has lost dozens of buildings to emergency tear downs, fires and other things. We can’t allow another structure lost. Once historic buildings are gone, they are gone forever. They are not just buildings, they are economic drivers for our city.”
ComEd is paying to demolish the existing library and build a new, estimated $33 million facility in its place. The company is not paying for the development on the adjacent property, however.
According to last Monday’s presentation, Bush would partner with Endberg Anderson Architects, of Milwaukee, and Rockford’s Gary W. Anderson Architects, which is set to receive $1.1 million on the new library, according to draft copy of a contract.
Library Board Chairman Paul Logli told the Rockford Register Star Friday that the board has not signed a contract with Bush on the mixed-use component and that it has agreed to allow Rockford aldermen to help decide the matter.
Rockford Ald. Kevin Frost, R-4, said he is in favor of examining why there was only one response to the RFQ.
“I hope they take a look at other options,” Frost said. “They need feedback from more than just one developer. I talked to two local guys who knew nothing about it.”
Logli added in the Register Star report that the board is open to working alongside City Hall to discuss the project with other developers. Sources told the Times Tuesday that a meeting with at least one local company is in the works. R.