ROCKFORD (WREX) — Downtown Rockford is a place where people from all parts of the city, and Northern Illinois in general, converge, no matter their interests. Downtown offers plenty of options, with even more on the way.
"Right now I think we're just beginning to hit our stride downtown," Mayor Tom McNamara said.
Davis Park is getting built up into a place people will want to come and spend time. New boat docks are being installed right now, with plans for an amphitheater and skate park to come. And a brand new library is set to open at the end of this year or early next year.
"I think that there is nothing but pride that's going to come from having a really cutting edge library right here on the river," said Rockford Public Library Marketing Director Bridget Finn.
Rockford pride has grown a lot in the past decade. Rockford Art Deli helped usher in a new era of being proud to say you live in Rockford, with their ubiquitous t-shirts always spotted around the city.
"When we started in 2011, it was definitely right place, right time," Rockford Art Deli owner Jarrod Hennis said. "The city was a little down on itself. We kind of got that local pride back. Everyone started wearing it. You can't go anywhere without seeing someone wearing one of our shirts these days."
While you won't find food at this deli, downtown Rockford features some top-notch eateries, including some food that's unique to downtown.
"This food you cannot find anywhere in Rockford," said Mo Saleem, the owner of Mo's Coffee and Cafe, which opened last year.
Mo's Coffee and Cafe features Pakistani food, as well as some traditional American favorites. While Ambiance is one of downtown's newest restaurants, specializing in soul food and creole cooking.
"Everybody comes down here and tells us this is what Rockford was missing," Ambiance owner Tisha Hannah said.
Downtown Rockford has a bustling art scene on full display with murals for all to see. But head underground, and you'll still find art, as Roni Golan stays busy creating at his Underground Art Gallery.
"There's a lot of potential here," Golan said. "It's small enough that even if you make one move, you make a difference."
If sports is more your scene, the UW Health Sports Factory gives athletes a place to compete, while the BMO Center is home to the IceHogs, who always bring energy to downtown.
Rockford's Crown Jewel, the Coronado Performing Arts Center, also brings people downtown for entertainment.
"This theater really represents that desire of wanting the best for this community all the time," said Beth Howard, the executive director of Friends of the Coronado.
The Coronado opened in 1927, and thanks to a restoration project a little more than 20 years ago, still looks pretty much the same.
"Just being in here everyday, you just can't help but be so proud that this community got this done," Howard said.
Some businesses want to see more foot traffic coming in, but they're staying optimistic.
"Being a small business in a Rust Belt city like Rockford, there's always something," said Benjamin Chauvin, owner of Rockford Roasting Co.
Chauvin opened a 2nd location of Rockford Roasting Co. at the Embassy Suites hotel downtown, and a couple of months ago closed his original location to put all of the company's energy into the hotel location. They've found a lot of success and enjoy being some of the first people to greet out-of-towners, as well as serve their regulars.
"We're certainly not where we want to be or where our small businesses want to be but I think all of them would say we're making our way back," Mayor McNamara said. "We're going to be, over the next two years, reconstructing Madison Street with a multi-use path, new lighting down Madison Street. That brings me to the Brewhouse."
The Brewhouse, another Rockford restoration project that helped revitalize downtown and make it a destination.
"This is the place to be," Ambiance's Hannah said. "You gotta get downtown. If you're looking for great food, a great experience, come downtown."
"Really there is something for everyone," added Mayor McNamara.
"Love the place that you live because otherwise you have a problem," said the Underground Art Gallery owner Golan.