It's the start of a new era as a $25 million sports facility opens in Rockford.
Wednesday marks the start of a new chapter in downtown Rockford. Now a sign of hope as the UW Health Sports Factory, things weren't always looking up for the former manufacturing plant.
"We've suffered a lot of trauma with the loss of a lot of factory jobs and manufacturing heritage was a huge blow to our image," says Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey.
The city took over ownership of the former Ingersoll building off of Walnut Street and Madison Street nearly 15 years ago. Officials say they've been working since then to clean it up and make it what it is today.
"Taking an environmentally-contaminated industrial site from the mid-1800s and turning into something special for our youth. You talk about crime, well we need more facilities like this to help them learn more about sportsmanship, competition and accomplishing anything with hard work," says City of Rockford Administrator Jim Ryan.
Local basketball teams like what they see.
"This is one of the better facilities around the country," says Rockford Ambassadors President & CEO Reggie Biffle.
And out-of-town teams seemingly do, too. The first sports factory basketball tournament is already just days away featuring teams from across Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin. Biffle says that wouldn't have been possible locally without this space.
"This weekend, with over 100 teams, there's no other facility in town that would've been able to facilitate that in a weekend," Biffle explains.
Now that the doors are open at the Sports Factory and area kids have had a chance to play first, the next step, officials say, is for Rockford's economy to score.
500,000 people are expected to use the facility each year and it'll generate $8 million for the region's economy annually, officials say, most of that revenue coming from visitors.