Council declines proposed restaurant plan at old museum building

Tom Cronkright offered plan doubling structure’s size.
Tom Cronkright offered plan doubling structure’s size.

City Council declined to vote on a proposed use of the former Rockford Area Historical Society building after downtown property owner Tom Cronkright made an in-person proposal for the building situated on City property at the Rockford Dam.

Cronkright had responded to a Request for Proposals in April this year and suggested using the building as an indoor and outdoor seating restaurant with space for about 120 diners.

Cronkright provided a copy of the proposal to the Squire which outlines his plan for the century-old property between the White Pine Trail and the dam in downtown Rockford. He called the building and its location “one of a kind” but said the structure has been deteriorating in recent years and is in need of a considerable amount of investment. Currently the building is without a bathroom or running water and is cooled only by a window air conditioner located in a research room of the building.

“I appreciate the opportunity to respond to the RFP relating to the potential purchase and redevelopment of the old museum building located at 7 E. Bridge Street which was historically used as the power generation station for the city (the “Powerhouse”),” Cronkright wrote in his proposal.

“When considering how to respond to the RFP, Julie (his wife) and I continually asked the following two questions: “What does Rockford need by way of additional offerings in the downtown district?” and “How do we create a useable and compliant structure that is ascetically appealing while respecting the original structure and the history it represents?” We believe our vision for the redevelopment of the Powerhouse provides a great plan for reuse of the building and accentuates a key property in the downtown district.”

Tom Cronkright presented his plans for the blue building at the Rockford dam. Most recently the Rockford Area Historical Society Museum, the building is now vacant as Rockford City Council considers the best use for the building. Cronkrights was the only complete proposal after the City asked for potential buyers to describe their vision.
Tom Cronkright presented his plans for the blue building at the Rockford dam. Most recently the Rockford Area Historical Society Museum, the building is now vacant as Rockford City Council considers the best use for the building. Cronkrights was the only complete proposal after the City asked for potential buyers to describe their vision.

Cronkright described his background as follows: “The first building Julie and I purchased was 17 Squires Street in the fall of 2002 as we were planning to open Jade. We approached that project with the goal of uncovering the beauty and history that was locked behind the walls of that building. That project taught us at an early stage of our lives how to redevelop historical buildings, manage a project, stay on budget, locate tenants, and manage a building. Since that time, we have purchased and redeveloped four additional commercial properties in the downtown Rockford and over a dozen additional properties in West Michigan. Several of these projects have won awards for the redevelopment and design of historical buildings. We plan to leverage all of our experience and knowledge on the redevelopment of the Powerhouse.”

Cronkright proposed purchasing the building for $70,000 including all permits and fees for water, sewer and storm system. His proposal included some stipulations should inspections unveil any unexpected hazards or expenses to renovate the structure.

Conkright-planCronkright said the existing structure, approximately 30 feet by 44 feet would be reused with the current roof system and the silver roof color will remain. To the north of the original structure is a latter addition approximately 15 feet by 30 feet, which will be rebuilt on its original foundation. To the north of the addition and a partially covered outdoor deck will be constructed and it will feature an outdoor stone fireplace. The deck will overlook the dam. Just below the northern portion of the building and the deck will be two multi-person public bathrooms, a public seating area and outdoor stone fireplace for warming in the evenings and cooler months.

To the south, a new addition of approximately 44 feet by 30 feet will be constructed to match the original structure. This addition will include a full basement and bathrooms for the user of the building. On the southeast end of the new addition a mini-tower will be built and will serve as the gateway to the entrance of the business that will occupy the building. We intend to include unique platform, glass and lighting features at the top of the tower so that artifacts or pieces of interest from the City of Rockford and/or community as a whole could be showcased throughout the year (e.g., a trophy of a Rockford state championship team, item historical significance, piece of art from a local artist etc.).

The proposal points out that the exterior of the building will include a matching standing seam roof that will be painted silver, new cement fiber siding and trim, insulated windows that open, rain gutters and down lighting. We will also add a covered bicycle kiosk to provide air, tubes and basic repair tools if someone experiences trouble while enjoying the White Pine Trail.

The interior will include the preservation of the existing wood floors and the addition of matching floors in the north and south additions, high ceilings, great views of the dam and White Pine Trail through windows that will open in the warm weather months, bathrooms and an outdoor deck with a stone fireplace.

“We propose to lease the public restrooms and warming area back to the City of Rockford for $1 per year so as to shift the maintenance and liability of these areas to the City as we would not be able to properly insure them. In addition, we request that at least one parking space adjacent to the building be designated as a 15 minute parking space for patrons of adjacent businesses to take-and-go,” the proposal stated.

The redevelopment plan listed above will cost an estimated $320,000. In addition, to convert the newly renovated building into a useable restaurant location, an additional $280,000 will be invested for equipment, furniture, furnishings. If the proposed redevelopment plan is acceptable to the Rockford City Council, discussions would begin with experienced restaurant operators in the area to gather proposals and will present formal use and investment plans to City Council within 120 days. “Our goal is to provide transparency to City Council regarding the proposed user to ensure it adds tangible value to the community.”

Cronkright included a letter of financial commitment from Chemical Bank for the financing of the purchase and rehabilitation of the building.

Cronkright stated that downtown merchants have experienced the lowest winter and spring sales levels that they have seen in decades. “As a result, we propose that all planning and approval be completed by the end of August with construction beginning the week following the completion of Harvest Festival. As exciting as this project will be for the community, it should not in any way disrupt or inhibit the ability for people to enjoy Rockford during its busiest months.” He proposed the following construction schedule: May, 2013 – City Council approval of redevelopment plan conditioned upon user approval; June-July, 2013 – final planning, print submission and contractor selection; August, 2013 – City Council approval of user; production schedule and any other items needing City Council consent prior to the commencement of construction; October 21, 2013 – construction begins; March 1, 2014 – project complete exclusive of any items requiring warm weather (e.g., exterior paint, stain, concrete etc.).

Cronkright said the proposed redevelopment plan will provide the following benefits to the community of Rockford: Restoration and beautification of the historical structure; Addition of two multi-person bathrooms; Addition of a public warming and gathering area including a stone fireplace; Addition of a new restaurant venue that will add jobs and attract additional people downtown; Creation of a bicycle kiosk to assist people on the White Pine Trail experiencing mechanical trouble; Creation of an outdoor deck overlooking the dam will create a “must experience” attraction in West Michigan; Redeveloped property will increase the tax base in the City of Rockford; The project as a whole will spur further buzz and economic development in the downtown district – restaurants lead to retail and service business attraction.

Council members had declined to accept Cronkright’s proposal because they believe the area is too conjested, especially with pedestrians to support the additional traffic a restraurant would draw. Tammy Bergstrom said she believed the property is important to the City because of the location and its historic significance and is reluctant to see it leave the City’s ownership for a private owner. Bergstom said she believes the property needs to stay within the public domain and hoped the Squire would encourage the public to let the City know what they would like to see for the building’s future.

Councilmember Steve Jazwiec said he agreed with Bergstrom that the congestion of the area is a reason not to put a high-traffic use in place. He was also concerned that Cronkright’s proposal would double the size of the historic building and take up more greenspace. “We have issues already where people can’t get down there when events are happening,” he stated.


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