ROCKFORD (WREX) — Decades ago, the Barber Colman plant was a reflection of the bustling manufacturing industry that existed in Rockford. While that industry is still an important part of Rockford’s identity, that building has sat vacant.
There’s a multi-million dollar project in the works, which city leaders hope will breathe new life in to that building. But as 13 Investigates discovered, unforeseen delays have some involved questioning whether Barber Colman is still the best option for that project.
Last October, Rockford City Council approved a development agreement between the city, Rock Valley College and the Rockford Local Development Corporation to move ahead with what’s being called Colman Village.
That agreement came more than one full year after Rockford alderman gave the project the green light at City Council. But also last year, the city said the slow progress was due to issues with federal grants.
John Phelps, the executive director of the RLDC, says a critical piece still needed before construction can begin are something called new market tax credits. With those, individuals can invest in the project and in return they get a credit against their own income tax.
But there’s a problem.
By the time the development agreement was signed, the deadline for the first round of 2019 tax credits had passed, leaving project leaders to play catch-up later this year.
“We had hoped to get in our original projection somewhere between 30 and 35 million in new market tax credits,” said Rockford City Administrator Todd Cagnoni. “That’s a tall ask in the 2019 allocation, but we continue to work on it.”
Cagnoni remains optimistic about the chance of getting a chunk of that money yet this year before moving to the 2020 allocations.
“Our consultants have given us really good feedback and we have a number of interested organizations looking to invest in it. So I do believe we’ll get market tax credits. Whether we get enough in this round compared to another round is yet to be determined.”
Just this week, however, the Rock Valley College Board of Trustees says it was briefed by the city and RLDC on the status of the project, and now some trustees say they’re concerned.
“We can’t train the workforce of tomorrow on a maybe,” said trustee Jarid Funderburg.
Funderburg says initially the board had expectations of the center being up and running by fall of 2019, but continued delays and uncertainty about the ability to secure funding has the board starting to consider other options.
“The board has thought that maybe it’s a good time to consider a Plan B,” Funderburg said. “The board is concerned that the project at Colman Village will take too long for us to fulfill our promise to the constituents that RVC would bring an advanced technical center to the core of the city.”
Funderburg admits no work has been done on a potential Plan B, and he supports the work that’s been accomplished to this point.
“We know the city is working as hard as they can to bring this to fruition and to no fault of anyone at the city is just sometimes that’s the way it works when you’re looking to get such sizable amount of tax credit funding,” he said.
One point all sides agree on is that moving forward, time is of the essence.
“We’re facing a lot of pressure. The buildings are not in great shape. Another winter poses certain risks. We’re working very diligently. We have multiple meetings every week,” Phelps said.
And although the complex project has its share of hurdles, project managers say the headaches will be worth it in the end.
“We see it as a workforce development project, we see it as an economic development project, and we see it as a community development project that we are investing in a distressed area of our community that needs reinvestment,” Cagnoni said.
RVC says one of the most exciting pieces of the project is where it’s located and the neighbors the Colman Village will have.
“It’s embedded with a community that’s in need for high educational attainment and job training,” said Jim Ryan, RVC’s vice president and chief operating officer.
For now, though, it’s all about the new market tax credits and getting all the pieces of the puzzle in place.
“It takes some time. Our hope is we’ll get this under construction next summer.”
Potentially, the quiet, vacant scene on South Main Street could be bustling by next summer. It’s a start of what community leaders believe will revitalize not only this building, but the community where it sits.