2023 was a great year for Rockford
Happy almost-New Years, Rockford! 2024 is right around the corner, but before we sing Auld Lang Syne, I wanted to congratulate the community for a truly amazing 2023. Rockfordians have a tendency to pooh-pooh positive local stories or add conditions to incredibly transformative good news, but I think this is the perfect time of the year to look back and give credit where credit is due. So with that being said, here’s my list of great news Rockford got in 2023:
A Barber-Colman dream is becoming a reality
For over 20 years, the once-bustling Barber-Colman industrial campus has sat vacant. With proposal after proposal for its revitalization thrown out, it seemed the 26-acre riverfront site was destined to forever blight the southwest side or be leveled. But finally, through an extraordinarily complex web of public & private financing, political agreements, and intense labor contract negotiations, J. Jeffers & Company, a Milwaukee-based developer, has managed to pull it off. Renaming the site “Colman Yards,” Jeffers broke ground this year on the first phase of the redevelopment project which includes the rehabilitation of all 9 remaining buildings of the original campus into apartments and other mixed-uses. After those buildings are renovated, other phases of new construction are expected to follow over the next 10 years.
Ride the Rails to Rockford
Yes, yes I know this one is going to be the hardest to believe until it actually happens, but Rockford is finally getting a train to Chicago! For over 40 years, Rockford has been promised passenger rail service to the Windy City ever since the original Blackhawk line was discontinued in the early 1980s. And for over 40 years, those promises have been broken. But unlike previous attempts, this ongoing initiative has gone the furthest. The feasibility analyses have been completed, the funding has been secured, and this year the State has announced that Chicago’s regional passenger rail provider, Metra, will be the selected carrier instead of Amtrak. While there is more work to be done (for instance, the City must finalize where the downtown station will be located, let alone start construction), it finally feels like the train is coming down the proverbial track. Passenger rail service is estimated to begin in 2027 with a pilot of two round trips from Rockford to Chicago with stops in Belvidere, Huntley, and Elgin.
A safe Forest City for all
It’s no secret Rockford has struggled with a high crime rate for far too long. Even though the crime rate is much lower than it once was in the 1990s, it is still high—coloring many people’s perceptions of Rockford before they let themselves see the good in the community. While this is an ongoing problem, we have some exciting news: violent crime is down 20% and shootings are down 32% compared to last year! In 2024, let’s work together to support a stronger, safer Forest City for all.
Billions and BILLIONS coming to the Rockford Region
Probably the biggest story of the year (and, to be honest, pretty annoyingly underappreciated locally), the Rockford Region is about to receive roughly $5 billion in public and private investment. That’s BILLION with a B! And that B stands for the Belvidere Assembly Plant. One of the largest employers in the region, the Belvidere Assembly Plant unceremoniously shut its doors earlier this year—leaving hundreds unemployed and public officials sweating. That was until the UAW launched its coordinated strikes over the summer. The Union not only successfully used its might to bring the Big Three to the bargaining table for higher wages, it also pushed to reopen Belvidere. And reopen it did! It was such a big deal, the President of the United States, Joe Biden, flew in to announce the largest investment in the Rockford Region in over 50 years! Those $5 billion will be spent retooling the plant, building another production facility, and more. It cannot be understated how big a deal this is. 165 formerly laid-off employees have already been called back to work!
Rockford flush with cash
It’s not often you hear a local government say it has too much money, but over the summer the City of Rockford did just that. Having budgeted very conservatively due to the many unknowns coming out of the Covid-19 Pandemic, the City was happily caught off guard when the local economy came roaring back—providing millions more in taxes than expected. How much more? Oh, just a quaint, little $32 million. And that’s on top of the amount the City holds in reserves for potential budget deficits. Check out this article from the Rock River Current to get a more in-depth explanation about how the City plans to spend the money, but here’s a short list of highlights: $13 million for a water main replacement on Auburn, $10 million for a new fire station, $3 million to Davis Park renovations, and a lot more.
Multiple other projects are ongoing
Speaking of money, anybody win the jackpot recently?
Construction on the HardRock Casino is ongoing and should finish up next year. The project is expected to bring thousands of visitors and millions of dollars annually to Rockford. HardRock is currently working to hire 400 people for the casino.
Read with a view
The new downtown riverfront library is also finishing up construction with an anticipated opening in early 2024. Unlike the old library, the new one promises sweeping vistas of downtown and the Rock River.
Are your lofts water-powered?
Urban Equity Properties’ latest endeavor in Rockford is shaping up beautifully. Located at 700 South Main in the Water Power District, the Water Power Lofts is sprouting new life in a long-ignored part of the city. Their investment, combined with a revitalized Barber-Colman and the hard work of longtime neighborhood activists and business owners, is building up momentum for a South Main reborn.
The News Tower definitely is Iconic
When you’re walking downtown on E State, you might notice the News Tower looks a little funny at the moment. That’s because Rockford’s most iconic building is missing its hat. The new owner, a solar panel company called Iconic Energy, is rehabbing the property, and part of that rehab includes a refurbishment or complete replacement of the original spire. But don’t worry, the spire will come back. Also, the new development has a new name! In honor of both the company and the tower’s high status within Rockford, it is now called the Iconic Building. Once the project is complete, the Iconic Building will house the offices for Iconic, a restaurant, a gorgeous atrium, and more.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I am really proud to be from Rockford, and I am really excited for the Forest City’s future. I hope this list of (some of) the community’s successes in 2023 helps make you proud to call yourself a Rockfordian, too. Cheers to 2024!