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City gets riverfront blueprint

Council hears architect's $67 million, 10-year proposal

The now-vacant Lawrence Brothers and National Manufacturing sites could be transformed into a complex housing restaurants, bars, condos, loft apartments and hotel rooms under a three-phase, 10-year, $67 million proposal presented to the Sterling City Council Monday.
The now-vacant Lawrence Brothers and National Manufacturing sites could be transformed into a complex housing restaurants, bars, condos, loft apartments and hotel rooms under a three-phase, 10-year, $67 million proposal presented to the Sterling City Council Monday.

STERLING – It would take $67 million and a decade of work, but the Lawrence Brothers and National sites along the Rock River could be transformed into hotel, apartment and retail space, including a museum, a farmer's market and a microbrewery, an architect told council members Monday.

Getting historic designation for the site would bring tax credits that could help pay for the rehab, Gary Anderson of Gary W. Anderson Architects of Rockford said.

Buildings along the city's riverfront are "exceptional" and possess unique qualities many other cities don't have, said Anderson, who was hired to determine the fate of the buildings and the potential for new development on the more than 30 acres of land once occupied by Northwestern Steel & Wire, Lawrence Brothers and National Manufacturing.

The city owns the Northwestern site and the Lawrence Brothers building; Stanley Corp. owns the National. The city is working on a deal in which Stanley would pay to clean up that site, then turn it over to the city.

Anderson's plan for the main Lawrence Brothers building calls for residential apartments on the first floor; residential condos, a cafeteria, a banquet room, a patio and a reception and gathering area on the second floor; and hotel rooms throughout the building, from the first to fourth floors.

The first floor of the National could house a bar and restaurant, a game area and a museum.

Anderson recommends treating the site, and the 13 buildings now on it, as separate buildings, so as to attract multiple developers, investors and operators.

He proposes a three-phase project. The first would involve demolishing some buildings to create open space for residents, and renovating the area for the creation of an interactive museum, a microbrewery and restaurant and a new riverwalk system.

Phase II would involve the creation of more open space and the development of space for an urban agriculture business, an indoor/outdoor farmer's market, loft apartments and condominiums.

Phase III calls for the creation of a banquet center and the loft apartments.

"What I think is so wonderful is now we have a plan that goes all the way from the Sterling Steel property all the way to Lawrence," Mayor Skip Lee said. "Now we have an idea of what the riverfront could look like for that whole large area."

"One of the things that you have here are buildings that are really eligible for the National Register [of Historic Places]," Anderson told the council. "It can really mean a tremendous financial tool that other communities don't have and other projects don't have."

He recommends the city submit the full development area to the National Register; submit a request to the National Park Service to designate the Lawrence Brothers site as "certified historic structures" and to designate the National site as a "certified historically significant site," which would bring federal tax credits for rehabilitation work.

Council won't issue bonds for Sauk Commons

STERLING – City Council members voted 4-0 Monday not to issue up to $5 million in bonds to refinance Sauk Commons, the bankrupt student housing complex at Sauk Valley Community College.

The city was asked to consider the move to help the complex take advantage of federal tax incentives.

Voting against the bond issuance were Aldermen Barry Cox; Retha Elston; Joe Martin and Lou Sotelo.

Alderwoman Amy Viering, director of the Sauk Foundation, was not at the meeting. Sauk Valley Student Housing LLC, a nonprofit group created by Sauk Foundation, owns the student housing complex.

Sauk Commons filed for bankruptcy in February 2011. Chicago-based Harris Bank is its creditor.

The complex was built in 2005 at a cost of $7.3 million using tax-exempt revenue bonds. It never garnered enough residents to stay in the black.

Mayor Skip Lee expressed concern about the possible impact to Sterling's reputation if the project were to default.

Elston said she voted no because there were "too many unanswered questions" and because of the urgency with which the proposal was introduced. Council members first were asked about the bond issuance at a special budget workshop on March 11.

"If it went into default before, why won't it go default again?" Elston said. "I don't feel comfortable putting our name on something that's going to maybe fail."

Sotelo said questions about the potential impact on the city that had not been answered adequately. Cox, too, said the proposal was introduced and set for a vote very quickly.

Champs gets the OK to light the alley

STERLING – The City Council agreed Monday to lease an alley to a local bar owner who plans to use it on weekends as an entertainment venue.

Denny Strader, owner of Champs Sports Bar & Grill, is working with the nonprofit development group Sterling Today to transform Light Street, the alley that runs from Second to Fourth streets, to a lighted avenue with wrought-iron fencing and tables that would lead patrons back and forth to various downtown venues, including his bar.

The project would mesh with improvements Strader wants to make to the easternmost part of his building, adjacent to the alley, where he plans to install a full-panel glass garage door to create and indoor/outdoor patio.

Strader will use the alleyway Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Orrie Peterson, who owns Bullseye Bar and Grill, opposes the project.

He said that Sterling Today should focus its efforts on the entire downtown, not just one section, and that the development would take customers away from his business, which is a block west and not on the alley. 

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