Essex development not happening, city files lawsuit to clean up site

The City of Rockford is taking the owner of the old Essex building to court. 

The city says it reached out to the owner AW Bennett Enterprises Inc multiple times to get that site cleaned up. It even fined it $50,000, which it paid. But, it still hasn’t cleaned up the mess. That’s why the city filed a lawsuit. 

"It’s very important when we have the opportunity to hold a property owner’s feet to the fire when they’re being negligent and irresponsible," the city’s attorney Matt Flores says.  

The lawsuit’s intent is to get the company to clean up the site But if it doesn’t, the City of Rockford will clean it up and send the owner the bill. 

"There’s nothing stopping the owner of that property right now from opening up their check books and calling a contractor and cleaning up that site," Flores says. "They don’t need a court order to do it and they could do it tomorrow and I would be more than happy to go into court and dismiss my case." 

For years, developers told the city they wanted to turn it into apartment living, retail and restaurant space. But, that plan fell through when project leaders couldn’t secure the financing. 13 News reached out to the owner of building multiple times but did not hear back. 

"Development can take a long time and over the course of time matters can change," Karl Franzen, Rockford Economic Development Director says. "It’s incumbent on us as the city to make sure that we’re putting provisions in these development agreements that protect the tax payers." 

That void leaves an eye sore and safety concern in an area where several people want to see it turned into something more than just a pile of rubble. 

"The people that live over there and the businesses over there deserve to have an environment that’s free of these kinds of blights and hazards," Flores says.  

The court date for this matter is set for September 6, but city leaders say they could ask a judge for an emergency clean up of the site after 30 days. 

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