ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) – When on the Waterfront made its last appearance during Labor Day weekend 2012, it marked one of downtown Rockford’s lowest points. But just four years later, we’ve seen a Rockford revival.
"We love it. We think the crowd shows how much people in Rockford want it", said Mike Corcoran a frequent attendee at Rockford City Market.
Mike Corcoran, his wife Lorie and daughter Lily are among the thousands of Stateliners who now make it a point to come to downtown Rockford.
“If we’re in town and Friday night’s open we are there", said Corcoran.
The Corcorans aren’t alone. Rockford City Market is shattering attendance records with the possibility of attracting 150,000 people this summer alone.
"We knew it was a good idea and a good thing but really wasn't sure how it would take off but every year it amazes us how the popularity continues," said Cathy McDermott from the Rock River District.
That popularity extends to downtown Rockford businesses.
"I've noticed some shops downtown that I wouldn't have noticed without walking here", said Lorie Corcoran.
It’s helped the River District Association achieve a goal set when it was first established in 2009.
"Starting this fall every storefront from here to the Irish rose will be full. It’s the first time I remember that happening", said McDermott.
It’s also the first time Joe Montalbano can remember it happening and he’s been cutting hair at his barbershop on East State since 1976.
“In 1976 I’d venture to say that we had about 35% vacancy in storefronts,” said Maltabano, going on to say things would get worse. “The Bypass 20 corridor in the 1980’s just killed business.”
However, within just the last two years, Montalbano has noticed a major difference. “I think people are getting a little excited about downtown,” says Maltabano.
With City Market, the Rockford IceHogs, and the new UW Sports Facility, Montalbano can feel the momentum.
“Do you think we’ve turned the corner a little bit?” asked 23 News anchor Mike Garrigan.
“I think so. Up there in the 500 block we have five restaurants. We see people walking now that’s never happened before," says Montalbano.
And if things are looking up downtown, nobody has a better view of it than Corey Pelley. Pelley is the project manager for The Standard, the new rooftop restaurant set to open in in mid-September.
"It seems like the downtown area is a positive attraction spot and we hope to be contributors to it,” says Pelley.
Pelley has been working projects in Rockford for the past 16 years and he says you can’t help but notice a downtown renaissance of sorts.
"Come noon on Friday this place is buzzing but as you can tell all week long more walkers. I do see a big difference down here.”
While it’s hard to argue that things downtown are looking up, there’s still issues to be resolved. Like traffic, parking, and lodging.
“Problem is when we get them downtown, there is no place to stay,”
But at least now the problems are the result of so many people, instead of too few people coming to downtown Rockford.
"In any community that most people live most of their lives they don't always see the positive things. But contributors and facilitators", says Pelley.
Joe Montalbano credits the landscaping that was done a few years back along East State as another reason why downtown Rockford has drawn more foot traffic.
Many of the people we spoke to said a downtown hotel is the next thing. They said so much has been done to bring people downtown, it’s the hotel that would keep them there. Cathy McDermott from the River District says more housing and a grocery store are also next. She predicts it will be another 5-10 years before downtown Rockford reaches its peak.