Wolverine presents responsible approach to tannery site redevelopment

by CLIFF AND NANCY HILL

At the May City of Rockford Planning Commission meeting, Wolverine World Wide (WWW) offered up a conceptual proposal and rendition of the company’s plans for redevelopment of the tannery facility. The following in verbatim is the verbiage of that spring 2010 update.

Much of the 15 acres of the Wolverine waterfront complex will be undeveloped green space for the foreseeable future future according to the most recent plans.

“Following Wolverine World Wide’s 2009 decision to close our Rockford, Michigan-based tanning facility, the Company has been engaged in exploring future options for the centrally located, 15-acre site. This process, which has continued to involve discussions with the City of Rockford and area officials, is intended to fulfill Wolverine’s stated intent to ‘do something special for the community and the City of Rockford on this unique waterfront property in the heart of downtown.’

“The Company’s current plans call for a patient, flexible and responsible approach to redeveloping the former tannery site. Our approach is guided by two important objectives: preserving and enhancing the overall economic vitality of the City of Rockford; ensuring that any future development of the site is sustainable over the long term.

“Pursuing sustainable development means taking into account the challenges posed by today’s economy. The downturn has taken a heavy toll on real estate investment and development activity, both regionally and nationally. As a result, there are currently fewer potential partners with the resources for implementing a broad, near-term plan for the site. On a related note, the economic downturn has been hard on existing Rockford businesses. Any new development activity must be considered in light of current and projected consumer demand.

“While these challenges do not preclude our working with interested partners to pursue a comprehensive redevelopment plan, Wolverine believes it is in the best interests of both the community and the Company to focus on smaller-scale initiatives in the near term that can help lay the groundwork for additional development activity in the future.

“Wolverine is currently in the process of working with City and state officials to move ahead with two specific projects:

  • constructing a new Wolverine retail store at the south end of the vacant property. (3.7 acres of the 15 total acres of the site.) Our enhanced retail presence would replace the Company’s Rockford Footwear Depot at 235 N. Main Street and provide an added “draw” for the portion of Rockford’s downtown commercial district that is adjacent to the south end of the former tannery site. Wolverine is in the process of filling the necessary applications for our planned retail store;
  • clearing the site of the former tannery and other related structures and creating a green space setting. We are currently looking into steps to allow public use of a portion of the site. The new green space would be designed to preserve the site’s viability for potential future development while providing an attractive near-term amenity for the Rockford area.”

Looking further into the future, Wolverine stated, “Any future development would need to take into account the overall economic environment and support our two primary objectives for the site. These include: preserving Rockford’s overall economic vitality and ensuring that any new development is sustainable over the long term. In general, we would expect any future development to be consistent with the City’s master plan, which calls for mixed-use development—a potential combination of commercial and residential space.”

Wolverine plans to retain ownership of the entire 15-acre parcel and further stated that, at this time, they cannot make any prediction pertaining to additional development given the continued uncertainty around how long a regional economic recovery might take.

 Wolverine’s initial, proposed timeline calls for completing construction of the new store (123 North Main) by spring 2011. Rockford Footwear Depot is expected to continue to operate during this time and the existing facility then would be cleared as part of WWW’s green space development plan.

As far as amenities that might be offered in the green space, Wolverine stated that they have not, as yet, worked through these kinds of details as the green space initiative is currently in an early stage, conceptual phase.

From the Squire’s perspective, one can only imagine the possible amenities that might be included in the beautiful, trailside and riverside, 11-acre green space with Rum Creek freely flowing to the Rogue River through the center of the parcel.

Wolverine further stated that area residents are welcome to participate and provide input into the site planning and redevelopment process via the usual channels, such as public hearings.

The Rockford City Planning Commission has scheduled a formal public hearing to receive public comment on the Wolverine proposal as part of their regularly scheduled June meeting to be held on June 24 at 7:00 p.m.

About Squire News

The Squire has been Rockford’s free weekly newspaper since 1871. Our loyal readership includes over fifteen thousand homes in the Rockford area, including the affluent Lakes area of Lake Bella Vista, Bostwick Lake and Silver Lake; Belmont, Blythefield, as well as Algoma, Courtland, Cannon and Plainfield Townships. The Squire is distributed through the U.S. Post Office every Thursday. We also deliver to in-town businesses and homes with paper carriers and news stands in our grocery stores and over thirty local shops.
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