For decades, the vacant Amerock building has sat as an eyesore on the edge of downtown Rockford. Rusting, crumbling, and fenced off from the public, Amerock is a towering reminder of Rockford blight.
It’s why Rockford aldermen were met with a standing ovation two years ago, after giving Wisconsin developer Gorman & Company the green light to turn the building into an Embassy Suites hotel and conference center.
But fast-forward to 2016, and nothing has changed, except that a Gorman trailer now sits on the site.
Alderman Frank Beach says, “Personally, I’m disappointed that what we … were told was gonna happen much sooner … is not being done right now.”
Gorman agreed to build the hotel under the condition that the City would renovate the vacant downtown Ingersoll building into a sports complex. That $20-plus million dollar project is now nearing completion, and has been renamed the UW Sports Factory
Beach says Rockford stepped up, and it’s time for the developer of Amerock to deliver. He says, “The fact that we have tournaments booked [at sports complex] in this year, in 2016, the first within a couple of months. And so, if the whole thing was supposed to be working together, then it should be working together.”
Without funding, the $67 million dollar Amerock project has no timetable for completion. Gorman CEO Gary Gorman and Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey have made trips to China, hoping to secure $25 million through EB-5 funding.
EB-5 is an immigration program that rewards foreigners with green cards for investing in job creation projects. Gary Gorman says, “We’ve got a partner in Shanghai (Paragon Partners), and those people have set up a network, an agency throughout China, and those people are raising the capital for us.”
Gorman concedes that raising the money has been rough. They are only at about 25% of their fundraising goal. He says, “Part of the issue is that the [EB-5] program expired December 11th of 2015, and so there was some disruption there. It was reauthorized through September of 2016, so a little bit of that start and stop has slowed [funding] up a bit.”
The budget impasse in Springfield is also a problem. Gorman’s goal, to get nearly $20 million through historic tax credits, may not happen due to state cuts.
Rockford Senator Dave Syverson says, “The state just thinks … that [$20 million is] too much of an investment for what you’re going to get in return, so we may just have to look at other options.”
Syverson may have a point. Feasibility studies done by Chicago strategic company Hunden revealed that a standalone hotel would not work in downtown Rockford. That’s why the conference center was added to the Amerock deal.
Gorman explains, “You’ve got a meeting venue that is set up for the demands and the organizations that traveled for conferences, and you have an attached hotel, and you have it in an attractive setting. That means next to the park, next to the river, all the amenities with the hotel.”
Gorman says he’s talked with lawmakers who say they will only support passing a state budget if it includes the historic tax credits. If that doesn’t happen, they will have to search for another backup plan.
He says, “There are a number of possibilities. One would be extending the EB-5 piece, as one possible route.”
Gorman can’t guarantee when the money will come, but he says he’s checked in on the hotel. He says, “We’re absolutely committed to this. We don’t easily walk away from a million dollars of our own money, and 3 years of our staff time. And frankly, our reputation is worth more then that.”
Investors from China are visiting Rockford in March to get a first hand look at Amerock
Gary Gorman purchased the building from the city for $250,000. Rockford has the option to buy it back from him for a dollar if he backs out of the project.