ROCKFORD (WREX) — After more than 2 years of trying to build an advanced technology center at the old Barber-Colman site in Rockford, a deal between Rock Valley College and the City of Rockford appears to be dead.
Instead, 13 Investigates confirmed through Rock Valley College Board of Trustees President Patrick Murphy that the college plans to build it at the Rockford Register Star News Tower Building. The college is moving forward with a deal with Gatehouse Media to lease the building for 5 years, and then have the option of purchasing it after 42 months.
According to Murphy, inability for the project to acquire needed funding, numerous push-backs in an expected move-in date, and uncertainty in the entire scope and price of the project ultimately led to RVC’s decision to move forward with an ATC in a different location, despite a development agreement signed with the city last year.
13 Investigates received a statement from Mayor Tom McNamara, who said he’s disappointed in the move.
“I’m disappointed that Rock Valley College has chosen to terminate the partnership to develop Barber Colman into an Advanced Technology Center. This was a transformational project in an area of our town that has been historically underserved and would have been an investment in both physical infrastructure and human capital,” McNamara said. The statement continued, saying, “Workforce development is a key issue in our region. I am pleased to see that RVC is still committed to an Advanced Technology Center in our City, which is critical to both employers and our citizens.”
The idea of transforming Barber-Colman was first announced in 2016. According to the city of Rockford, Phase One of the project dealt with four of the nine buildings at the Barber-Colman site. RVC would be the anchor tenant of those buildings, setting up the ATC.
In 2017, the City Council gave the green light to apply for federal grants. However, issues with acquiring those grants and receiving tax credits stalled the project significantly.
Originally, the goal was to have the ATC ready for the fall of 2018. That timeline was pushed back, however, to late 2020 or 2021.
RVC’s board of trustees says it was given an update from project managers this summer on the progress of the project. Following that meeting is when 13 WREX first learned trustees had major concerns on the project’s timeline and were looking in to a “Plan B” location.
Murphy says the contract concerning the Register Star building would allow the college to expand its 15,000 square foot space at the building to 100,000. This would be a 5-year lease, with the option for the college to purchase the property at 42 months.
13 News spoke with Gatehouse Media Group Publisher Paul Gaier who confirms that the Rockford Register Star will remain in the building, even as Rock Valley College expands. Gaier adds he’s excited to extend the private-public partnership between RVC and Gatehouse Media. While the deal is not finalized at this point, Gaier says he believe both sides will move forward and a deal is close.
Murphy tells 13 Investigates it’s his understanding the City of Rockford and RVC will split $372,000 that’s been spent on the project thus far. However, what’s not clear is what will happen to the money other municipalities, including Winnebago County, have committed to the Barber-Colman project.
A press conference is scheduled for Friday at 11 a.m. 13 News will be there to provide more coverage.