Rockford coalition announces proposal for downtown site with casino, aquarium

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Rendering provided This rendering shows what a downtown Rockford casino and entertainment district would look like. The plan marks the second proposal to be annoucned in recent weeks.

ROCKFORD - A Rockford coalition has announced a proposal for a downtown casino and aquarium, as the deadline for proposals to the city approaches.

The Rock River West Casino Group, in partnership with Wisconsin-based Gorman & Company, are seeking to develop an entertainment district at the "gateway" to Rockford adjacent to the anticipated train station and Amerock Embassy Suites Hotel and Convention Center on the South Main corridor.

According to Rock River West Casino Group associate Stacy Bernardi, Gorman & Company has acquired the rights to over 13-acres of land along the corridor for future development, noting the site could expand in the future.

"This is another opportunity for us to draw people to the downtown area," Bernardi said. "The past history has been bypassed by the interstate, and I think at this point in time we have the opportunity to maximize an area of the city that's historic. It can offer many types of entertainment venues and that would spur economic development."

Rockford Aquarium Board member Terry Reid says the addition of an aquarium would enhance the region's museum offerings.

"We envision a world-class Aquarium which will create a vibrant and exciting place where people can spend quality family time while learning about the oceans of the world, our river and important aquatic-related issues," Reid said.

But not everyone is convinced a downtown location for the casino would be the best fit.

Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, said moving the casino away from I-39/90 would attract fewer visitors. The longtime advocate for a Rockford casino said potential casino suitors should review development trends around other urban casinos across the state, citing the trouble the City of Aurora has had in attracting development downtown adjacent to its casino.

The gaming expansion bill signed by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker on June 28 allows for Aurora to relocate, Syverson said.

"It's not a good location," Syverson said of the Gorman & Co. proposal. "It would generate less revenue than compared to a casino built along the interstate."

Bernardi disagrees, saying young people want options aside from going to an "island casino," a term used to describe stand alone developments.

"With a downtown entertainment district, you aren't just generating revenue from a casino," Bernardi said. "You are getting revenue from all the other things that can accompany it, along with supporting existing downtown businesses."

On July 16, Hard Rock International announced a proposal to build a Hard Rock Cafe and casino at the former Clock Tower resort site along I-39/90, the first plan that was brought forward. No proposals have been officially submitted to the City of Rockford, officials said.

Proposals are due to the city by Aug. 16.

On the Wisconsin side of the state line, Beloit is awaiting word on a tribal casino development proposal. That proposal is awaiting a decision from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

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