’Everything is on the table’

ROCKFORD — Alderman Frank Beach was so excited about the city tearing down the former Magna grocery store at 3915 E. State St. that he drove to the site Thursday morning to personally witness the beginning of the building’s demolition.

"For more than 20 years we’ve tried to envision what it would be like if it was all down so a new development could be proposed," Beach said. "Things are finally going forward."

Beach isn’t the only one who’s pleased by the building’s demise.

John Sommer has owned Don Carter Lanes adjacent to the Magna site for 55 years.

"I think it’s fantastic," Sommer said. "Believe it or not, I remember when it was the Sugar Bush driving range. There were beautiful oak trees and hills and a creek running through the property. It’s really exciting news. We’re going to get something new in there."

The city took ownership of the condemned nearly 80,000-square-foot building in January after reaching a settlement agreement with the former owner, CVS.

CVS paid the city $120,128 for demolition. Rockford also received an additional $10,000 judgment lien against CVS as part of the settlement agreement.

"Removal of this building is part of the city’s larger strategy to eliminate blight and strengthen neighborhoods, while saving the taxpayers money," according to a news release issued by the mayor’s office.

On Monday, the city demolished the condemned strip mall directly west of the vacant grocery store. The city will pursue reimbursement for the cost of demolition from the owners of that property.

"It’s a huge victory for us," said Paula Olson, executive director of the business association known as Miracle Mile Rockford. "It opens up wide for something exciting. I don’t know what."

Miracle Mile stretches along East State Street from SwedishAmerican Hospital east to Rockford University and includes businesses, office space and homes on both sides of the street.

In January, the vacant State Street Station nightclub at 3515 E.State St. was purchased by a private developer and then demolished to make way for a Via Sofia’s Italian Kitchen franchise. Construction on the restaurant has yet to begin.

Still to be determined is how the nearly 8-acre former grocery store site will be redeveloped.

"We’re right in the heart of Rockford," Sommer said. "From a selfish standpoint, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a big park for festivals and events? There are so many things we could do if we had a space like that for the city but they’re probably going to want some tax dollars."

Beach, who has represented the area that includes the Miracle Mile for nearly 40 years, is intrigued by the possibilities.

"Let’s go and try to find development that will fit that space," Beach said. "Some of it could be commercial. Some of it could be residential. Who knows what could happen on eight acres? There has not been anything really concrete as far as I know but we’re certainly going to be talking about it."

Because of the size of the site, the property could be sold and developed in parcels, according to Karl Franzen, the city’s Director of Community and Economic Development.

"Everything is on the table," Franzen said. "Now that the buildings are down, we can get away from the mindset of backfilling a big box store that’s set far back from the main road. My conversations have covered the gamut. We see retail interest and possibly service or office and even multi-family residential as a potential."

Ken DeCoster: kdecoster@rrstar.com; @DeCosterKen