Hovercraft flights and more adventures possible as new wave of d - WREX.com – Rockford’s News Leader

Hovercraft flights and more adventures possible as new wave of development hits Rock River's shores

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Sink or swim.

It's up to Rockford's leader on how the city capitalizes on one of it's most valuable resources: the Rock River.
A new wave of development is happening along the river's banks already.

Even more shoreline is opening up in a matter of months.  With the right public and private investment, it could help solidify Rockford as a top 25 city in this country by 2025.

Say what you will about Rockford on land, but when you get on the water, it's hard to get down on the up and coming city with a river running through it.
Hundreds flock to the banks of the Rock River in downtown Rockford for Dinner on the Dock at Prairie Street Brewhouse on Thursday nights.

It's where Doctor Fatima Ali.  She is about to take the plunge and move to Rockford.

She lives in Alexandria, La., right now.  Another U.S. city with a river running through it.

"I've only been here once before for a job interview, but this kind of an up and coming cool place to be," said Ali to 13 News Anchor Sean Muserallo when asked her impression of Rockford so far.  "There's an atmosphere here that I like."

There is already a lot to do on the river, but nothing like a personal hovercraft experience has been available, until now.

Bill Zang is the president of Universal Hovercraft.  Zang announced exclusively to 13 News his company is entering new territory by offering flights on its Renegade Hovercraft for $95 the first time and $129 a flight/hour if you get trained and can ride it solo.

"Anybody can come down here, be trained to operate the hovercraft," said Zang.  "As they build hours they can take it out by themselves and explore the river on their own.   If you can operate a jet ski, you can operate a hovercraft."

Zang's company builds the Renegade in Rockford just south of the Morgan Street Bridge.

"I think the Rock River right now is like a little baby waiting to grow up," said Zang.  "We came down here and things on this side of the river were barren, but there is a lot of activity starting to happen.  We're one of those people who are putting activities on the river."

Along the hovercraft tour, you can see the first development opportunity along the Rock River the city will soon have in it's control.
ComEd is wrapping up it's environmental clean up of it's former plant on South Water Street along the Rock River.

"It'll be really exciting to see how this turns into a green space," said George Gaulrapp, ComEd's External Affairs Manager.

ComEd is wrapping up it's environmental clean up of the coal gassification site that was once the Rockford Electric Company.  The plant closed decades ago.

It's more than 4 acres that will be turned over to the city this fall, possibly with the Fordham Dam as part of the deal.

The prime location is right behind the new Sportsocre Downtown being built.

"There's a lot of different ideas," said Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey.  "There's been discussions about a whitewater park.  There's been discussions about additional parking for Ingersoll."

The area along the river is a popular fishing hole and will likely remain so when the city turns it into a riverfront park in the short term.  The mayor said the plan is to use trails and pedestrian bridges to connect more people to downtown.

The second riverfront site that has potential for development is the downtown public library property.

ComEd could start its environmental clean up of that old underground coal storage site as early as the Spring.

"I'm open to having a community conversation about what the future library is going to look like," said Morrissey.  "Then what kind of uses might be the best uses on that piece of property.  Do they stay here?  Do they partner with others?  Do they tear it down?  Do they rehab it?  I don't think there's been anything resolved yet."

One Rockford Alderman is already starting the conversation.

"I put my toe in the water," said Alderman Tim Durkee of Rockford's 1st Ward.  "I do not think the river is being utilized enough.  I think it's being way under utilized."

Durkee's grassroots effort to reimagine the possibilities for the library property has started.  He said he will advocate for the library to be moved somewhere else, and the land to be used to connect the dots with everything else going on around it.

"Some kind of sports venue or park green space," said Durkee when asked what he'd like on the property other than the library.  "I really hope that in 5 to 10 years we could stand on these bridges and either see small restaurants, more loft dwellers and more urban professionals who are moving down here."

Any big ideas along the river's shores will require the private sector's buy in.  Statistics show developers can be sold on investing along the river.
Landmarks Illinois, a historic preservation advocacy group, reported since the River Edge Redevelopment Zone was created, $104 million have been invested in five projects, two of which are already done.  The tax credit has created 480 direct jobs, according to the group.

There is a lot to consider, which is natural when there's a lot at stake.  People who grew up on the Rock River, now bring their kids here.  More people will do so as they set up shop in Rockford.

Building futures while those who've been a part of the city's past long to see the Forest City's return to glory.

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