A public hearing for plans to build a new shoe and apparel store on the south section of the current Wolverine World Wide (WWW) property on the Rogue River was held Thursday, June 24. The plan met a warm reception for the most part, despite several comments—both from the public and Rockford Planning Commissioners—concerning contamination on the property. WWW was before the commission, asking they recommend rezoning 3.7 acres of the property from industrial to commercial (C2).
Rockford City Manager Michael Young explained to members of the audience and commissioners that rezoning would facilitate restructuring of the shoe and apparel store. The C2 zoning is more restrictive than a simple commercial designation. “In traditional commercial, anything could go there. It could be fast food, a bank, anything,” said Young.
By WWW’s stipulation, the C2 would only allow the store. The store would go in where the pig procurement building is currently located.
Five representatives from WWW as well as one from Rockford Construction were on hand to answer questions. A resident with a home facing the site asked if a hazardous waste study had been conducted and if the results were public. Another asked about the zoning of the parking lots on the east side of Main Street. “There is one lone house there. She’s surrounded by parking lots,” the speaker described.
“As a commercial structure, there have to be hazardous materials studies,” described Young. “There are a lot of agencies looking at this from a safety point of view, from Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Act [MIOSHA] to the Department of Natural Resources and Environment [DNRE].”
Kenneth Grady, general council and secretary for WWW said the property has been constantly monitored for safety as until recently it was a working operation with employees. “We have been working with all appropriate government materials and an abundance of regulatory materials. From this point what we know is it is an old brick building that is coming down.”
Planning Commissioner Phil Davis questioned the angle of the building, which neither faces Main nor Courtland streets. He speculated that when WWW reveals its ultimate plan for the entire property, the reason for the unusual placement would become clear.
Grady disputed the assumption. He said the angle of the building is to open up a view of the Rogue River. “We are trying to make use of the natural beauty feature of the river.”
“We do not have a master plan for this area,” Grady said of the rest of the parcel. “I know the curiosity is out there. We’ve talked about it a lot, but that’s all it is, just talk. Use of the property will play out as the economy plays out. We don’t know what will be viable for this community. What we do know is we have a shoe store here today and we want to keep that store.”
Planning commissioners praised the plan, although Tammy Bergstrom said she believed it would be proper to have an inspector on site throughout the demolition.
David Rasmussen also praised WWW’s wait-and-see attitude toward developing the rest of the old tannery site. “We would like to know what’s going to happen to the entire site. I respect Wolverine for taking it a piece at a time. We don’t need to double the size of our downtown in the next years. If you decide today, you will make mistakes,” he said.
Rasmussen also addressed the several comments of concern over contamination. “Rest assured, if there is contamination, the DEQ will be right there and you won’t be able to put a shovel into the ground.”
The unanimous approval to recommend both a Brownfield Authority status for the project and rezoning for the store puts final approval in the hands of Rockford City Council, who will consider both recommendations on Monday, July 14.