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No quit in plans for riverfront

ROCK FALLS –áSandy Henrekin’s vision for a riverfront revitalization is undeterred.

She sees a hotel there. A banquet hall, too, and a conference center, and dining opportunities.

Unfortunately for the city, that vision no longer includes state agency offices that were planned for a refurbished office building on the former Reliant Fastener site.

The state had told Rock Falls it would move the agencies from Sterling to the riverfront. That commitment was a starting point for the project.

Now, the city is back to square one, the financially strapped state having abandoned its plans for the offices.

But Henrekin, the executive director of the Rock Falls Community Development Corp., and other officials are looking for new investments in the riverfront.

She’s putting together for developers a synopsis of the site, what the offerings are, and what the city is prepared to do.

“We will see what type of response we get,” Henrekin said.

Moving forward

Rock Falls likely will have $300,000 in grant money available from the Illinois Department of Transportation’s Enhancement Program.

The money is for a Phase 1 engineering study of the public space. The federally funded grant program promotes alternative means of transportation.

How the Rock Falls riverfront qualifies is that it has “connectivity to Sterling and has a connection via the walk bridge,” Henrekin said.

She expects a final agreement on the grant to come in the next few months.

With grant money in hand, the city would seek a master developer. Henrekin said there are no limits to the possibilities for Rock Falls’ riverfront.

“It would be a wonderful place for weddings and business conferences,” she said.

The site also could provide a wide array of recreational opportunities. The public space could hold “all different types of venues for food and restaurants, as well as supporting retail services,” Henrekin said.

There also is the possibility of housing, such as condominiums and single-family residences.

Henrekin said city and economic development officials still believe developing the riverfront will spur future growth for the city’s downtown.

“That plan hasn’t changed for downtown,” she said. “Our concept has not changed as far as the riverfront [being a] gateway.”

Jack Spencer is chairman of the Rock Falls Riverfront Committee.

He said the site along the riverfront is clean and well-located. It’s still got a lot going for it, he said.

“It has places where people can work,” he said. “We have to stay true to that. We don’t want to get away from that.”

Spencer envisions a place for residents and visitors to shop, work and spend leisure time.

Lessons learned

Henrekin said the opportunity for state offices “seemed so significant, we would have been foolish not to chase it.”

Given another chance to start the process, she said she would have looked more into a master developer concept.

The breakdown in the state agency plan was a “good learning process,” Spencer said.

“I think we learned how to put together an awfully good plan,” he said. “The state approved the plan and told us to go forward.”

In future attempts at development, he said he would ensure there is more than one entity interested in the project.

“When you get down to one, and you lose the one, it’s a real blow,” he said.

Spencer cited the down economy and the state’s uncertain financial future as reasons why the project fell through.

“It is really understandable how that happens,” he said. “We’ve got to be careful that we don’t just have one thing going. This one took so much of our time.”

But he stopped short of saying he wouldn’t work with the state of Illinois again.

“At the end of the day, the state is in a terrible position and they had to make decisions about how they see agencies going forward,” Spencer said. “It would have been nice to get a warmhearted call saying, ‘This is tough to do, we’ll be there in the future.’

“We didn’t get that call.”

Part of the grant agreement is for the city to commit to 20 percent of funding. The Economic Development Corp. is asking for the public’s help.

“If somebody feels that there is value to what we are doing, [then they can help],” Spencer said. “This initial surge of help, we couldn’t be more grateful.”

To be a part of the process

To help the city match 20 percent of the grant money, contact the Rock Falls Community Development Corp. Go to or call Sandy Henrekin, executive director, at 815-626-8053.

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