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Taking care of business to develop riverfront

City officials working on preparing riverfront for future development

Sterling Mayor Skip Lee talks about his vision for a unique riverfront development at the National and Lawrence Bros. sites. "People are looking for destinations," he says.
Sterling Mayor Skip Lee talks about his vision for a unique riverfront development at the National and Lawrence Bros. sites. "People are looking for destinations," he says.

STERLING – For some, the price tag seems high: $67 million.

That's what Gary W. Anderson Architects of Rockford, hired by the city to develop a feasibility plan for the riverfront, estimate it will cost.

The 10-year plan for the National and Lawrence Bros. buildings includes hotel space, loft apartments, a banquet center, condominiums and an interactive museum. Architects also envision a microbrewery restaurant, an indoor/outdoor farmers market and open civic space.

"I think it's important for people to understand, this is a dream plan," Sterling Mayor Skip Lee said. "The whole purpose of this was to get an analysis from the architects. OK, what can we do with this?"

The consultants told City Council members recently to think of development in terms of individual parcels of available land, rather than just as a single development.

The city is working to acquire the National Building from Stanley Black & Decker, so it can prepare for such developers, City Manager Scott Shumard said.

"We're currently negotiating with them to deed the facility over to us, contingent upon an environmental cleanup of the property," he said.

The city took the Lawrence Brothers building through an abandonment process, Shumard said. Before the site can be developed, a number of environmental issues must be addressed.

"The only way to overcome that is through the application for brownfields grants through the U.S. EPA," he said.

The city applied for grants in 2011 and was turned down. It reapplied last year and hopes to be successful this time, Shumard said.

The status of the two sites is crucial: Developers and investors want to see a "no further remediation" letter before coming to an area, Shumard said.

"That means the EPA won't come back on the new owners for any transgressions from the past, environmentally speaking," he said.

Sterling is trying to do something to make its riverfront competitive in the 21st century. That means it must provide unique entertainment and dining opportunities. Lee said.

"People are looking for destinations," he said. "People go to the festivals. Go over to Le Claire, Iowa when they do the tug of war across the Mississippi River; go to Dutch Days ... they're looking for a place to go. They're saying on Saturday, where can I go that I can do something neat?

"Anything that we add down there needs to be something that will draw others to us."

Shumard agrees.

"I've said it a number of times, there are thousands of cities like us across the Midwest. There's the ones that are going to adapt and compete, and that's going to take some investment on their own part.

Or there's the ones that are going to do nothing, and they're going to fall by the wayside."

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