‘At no time did we decide not to build the shoe store’
by BETH ALTENA
Christi Cowdin, corporate communications spokesperson for Wolverine World Wide (WWW), said news stories of Wolverine’s decision not to build a shoe store this spring on the site of the former tannery have been misleading. “It’s a matter of timing,” she said. “We are not in an economy that is hungry for development.”
Cowdin said not much has changed in terms of the company’s long-term plans for the property between Rockford’s Main Street and the Rogue River and flanked by a section of the popular White Pine Trail. The existing shoe store, one of the company’s largest and busiest, will continue to operate, and, Cowdin said, draw shoppers to Rockford.
“We have always expressed that we need to be patient, flexible and most importantly, responsible in this development,” she said. “We are still open to any and all ideas for the future of the site.”
Cowdin said a plan to break ground for a new building has been delayed and it is unclear what an ideal development for the property might be.
“We have spent a lot of time and money on that site and when we develop it we want it to be a nice development, to bring something special to the City. We want it to be nice for us, too.” Cowdin said the company will continue to be patient and open to any new development ideas that come their way. “Right now there is nothing. There is no plan to build X, Y or Z.”
Cowdin was critical of reports that indicated Wolverine dropped plans for future development of the land at the last minute. She said it was her understanding that the groundbreaking for the shoe and apparel store, which was promoted as a flagship retail facility for the company, was slated for March. Rather than a last-minute reversal of plans, she said development of the site has just been postponed.
“We will still have a shoe store. We will still have green space,” she stated. “The plan hasn’t really changed.”
Cowdin said in the current economy it is unlikely a builder will step forward to partner with Wolverine in the development, but eventually the company would like that to be the case. “What we would look for is to find someone with a development idea that we could incorporate into our new retail store,” she said. She emphasized that Wolverine intends to permanently retain ownership of the property and is determined to be a good landowner.
At a Trout Unlimited meeting held at WWW headquarters on Thursday, Jan. 20, Tom Mundt, former WWW vice president, now retired, spoke for Wolverine CEO Blake Krueger, who was out of town. Before nearly 200 members of Trout Unlimited, which has chosen the Rogue River as a Home River Initiative project—a major designation—Mundt said Krueger has often commented, “It is a dirty shame someone put a tannery next to a blue ribbon trout stream. The buildings are gone now and it is all covered with sand. There will still be a store downtown. The rest of the land will be a park.”
Cowdin said using the word “park” was probably a mistake, as there is no plan for park amenities. However, she said it would be more accurate to describe the land as green space, which Cowdin said would be available for public use until future development is determined.
“We are still working with the City,” she said. “We also don’t want to get it wrong,” she said of the property. “It’s a wonderful property right on the river. We don’t know what might end up being the best use for the property.”
According to Cowdin, plans for a new sports complex proposed on 10 Mile Road by the West Michigan Sports Commission may result in a new best use for the site.
When asked when WWW might propose a new plan for the property, Cowdin said it depends on when the appetite for development returns. “I don’t know whether it might be months from now or years from now. That’s the big question.”