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Plans still developing along riverfronts

Business incubator in Sterling among possibilities

Traffic flows Friday evening across the First Avenue Bridge connecting Sterling and Rock Falls. The bridge's reconstruction, scheduled to be completed in November, has drawn attention to the riverfront development area in Rock Falls.
Traffic flows Friday evening across the First Avenue Bridge connecting Sterling and Rock Falls. The bridge's reconstruction, scheduled to be completed in November, has drawn attention to the riverfront development area in Rock Falls.

STERLING – Sterling City Manager Scott Shumard is working on unveiling a plan for industrial relics along the Rock River that he hopes will excite the public about riverfront development.

In Sterling and Rock Falls, leaders continue to work on plans.

In Rock Falls, officials are working with a developer on a plan for a large project along the riverfront.

Sterling, meanwhile, is working with Gary W. Anderson Architects out of Rockford to determine the fate of existing buildings and the potential for new development on the riverfront.

In Sterling

The project area covers more than 30 acres of land once occupied by titans of Sterling industry — Northwestern Steel & Wire, Lawrence Brothers and National Manufacturing.

The architects are evaluating “whether existing buildings had potential for reuse or whether they should be demolished as part of the riverfront,” Shumard said.

That study, when completed, will be presented at an upcoming Sterling City Council meeting and will include the architects’ recommendations, Shumard said.

The city also is working to gain ownership of the Lawrence Brothers building through abandonment. Shumard also has been talking to Stanley National about the future of its property since the company announced its shutdown.

He is trying to “find a way to get the property transferred to the city and to get that portion cleaned up at their expense, not ours.”

The city is securing a grant from the state Department of Natural Resources to bring dredged soil from the Illinois River to the site to create a cover over the entire former Plant 1 area.

“The community came up with the plan,” Shumard said. “I hope we are able to stick with what that is: open space for the community to use, access to the river, being able to pull in retail down there, some sort of living situation.

“People like to be close to the water, so that will be convenient for them.”

He envisions a place downtown that can accommodate festivals and a veterans memorial.

Shumard and economic development officials also are considering a business incubator along the riverfront.

“Where do we aim that? Industrial uses? Skilled manufacturing type technology?” Shumard said. “There is a lot of space to fill down there. We want to really take pride in it.”

Working behind the scenes must be balanced with giving the public something to get excited about, he said — something he hopes the architects’ presentation will provide.

In Rock Falls

Across the river, economic development officials are working with a developer on a 10,000-square-foot project.

Sandy Henrekin, director of the Rock Falls Community Development Corp., said there is no time frame yet for the developer to reveal the nature of the project.

The group also is using Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program grant money to conduct Phase 1 engineering of the bike path from the Lower Dam to the Hennepin Canal. The study will look at the design and engineering of the path and corresponding public space, Henrekin said.

Henrekin also is working with SAA Design Group and Wendler Engineering on a design concept for the area.

The companies presented three concepts. RFCDC selected elements from each that it wanted to incorporate into the riverfront plan. They include a trail-head type building with some public amenities, a kiosk-type building, an amphitheater, a picnic grove and riverfront viewing, Henrekin said.

“What we’re trying to do [is determine] realistically what our market will bear,” she said.

She said members of the economic development team each have different visions for the site. Among the aspects Henrekin would like to see are recreational tourist designations, small niche retail, dining and a conference center.

“We’ve also talked about a hotel. ... I’m not sure the market will bear,” she said. “That’s what we’re looking for.”

Henrekin said the First Avenue Bridge reconstruction project, scheduled to be completed in November, has improved the entrance to the city. The bridge reconstruction project has brought attention to the development site, she said.

“Now that the bridge is going to be done, people are starting to talk: Bridge is done, road is done, what’s next?” she said. “It has brought some attention to the site for other inquiries, other interest downtown. That’s what the site is supposed to do.”

Finally, she said, leaders are taking into account how riverfront development will complement the downtown.

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