By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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ROCKFORD — A third generation family-owned company is moving into the former Rockford Products site on Harrison Avenue after developers renovated the space.
First Midwest Group said it spent roughly $4 million preparing the site at 711 Harrison Ave. for Viking Chemical Co. to move in. First Midwest was a lender and landlord to Rockford Products, a longtime manufacturer of fasteners, until it closed in September 2016.
Work the company did to prepare the site for new use included: demolition of more than 250,000 square feet of the industrial burner and fabrication space, preservation of the front entry on Harrison Avenue, renovation of 110,000 square feet of office and industrial space on the north end, and restoration of the southern building of 230,000 square feet that includes a rail spur.
The brick wall along Kishwaukee Avenue and the clock tower were also preserved “to offer future generations a sense of the scale of operations at this epochal site,” the company said in a news release.
The north end of the building is available for lease. The southern portion of the building is being leased to Viking Chemical, which sought to consolidate operations under one roof, the company said.
Viking Chemical was founded by David Whitcher in 1957 and is now managed by a third generation of the Whitcher family.
“Viking is pleased to have the opportunity to expand in Rockford and to participate with First Midwest Group in rehabilitating this part of Rockford’s industrial past,” Marc Whitcher said in a news release. “When this property becomes fully operational it will allow Viking to expand the business and enhance service to Rockford and the Midwest region.”
Sunil Puri, founder and president of First Midwest Group, said he was “excited to see a third generation of family members return to call Rockford their home and to be part of a plan that allowed for Viking and its employees to remain in Rockford.”
He said that “this would send a message to the families and business owners of Rockford that we can be proud of our industrial past, and with commitment we can expand jobs and businesses here.”
Under a redevelopment agreement with the city of Rockford, First Midwest Group will be reimbursed for the renovations with revenue coming from a tax-increment finance district that surrounds the property.
TIF districts capture revenue from increased property values into a special fund that can be used to pay for a variety of improvements. First Midwest will be refunded 100% of the increased revenue – referred to as increment – on the Rockford Products site and at the neighboring DaVita kidney dialysis property, which it had previously developed at the southwest corner of Kishwaukee and Harrison.
Rockford Products, which incorporated in 1929 as Rockford Screw Products Co., was once one of the world’s largest manufacturers of fasteners and other industrial products. It employed more than 2,000 people at its peak but had fewer than 200 workers when it closed its doors for good.