2-Rawleigh Complex Existing Bldgs and Uses(11.25.14)
ABOUT THE COMPLEX
The City Freeport has a long and prosperous history of innovation and manufacturing. Despite the modest size of its population, currently 25,600 and never larger than 30,000, its strategic location along the former Illinois Central Railroad made it a center of commerce in the state line region starting in the 1850’s, continuing through today. Over that time, a number of entrepreneurs and industrialists called Freeport home and built a plethora of powerful businesses that produced everything from presidential limousines for the Truman administration, to windmills that supplied power to farms throughout the country, to high-tech switches used in everything from home thermostats to NASA spacecraft. Although the shift to interstate highway transportation from rail over the latter part of the last century tapered Freeport’s growth, the past economic activity and affluence have left the community with a wealth of historic structures in the central business district that are readily adaptable for a wide variety of new uses. With the coming re-introduction of Amtrak service connecting Freeport to Chicago and Dubuque, the community now has an enormous opportunity to acquaint a whole new generation of entrepreneurs with the City’s favorable business climate, dependable workforce, and magnificent downtown buildings.
A major focal point of the City’s downtown and riverfront revitalization efforts is the repurposing of the 460,000 square foot, former Rawleigh complex. The W.T. Rawleigh Company had a major presence in Freeport’s downtown beginning in the early 1900s producing everything from medical products to spices, inks, shampoos, and cleaning supplies. Rawleigh distributed these products nationwide through a door-to-door “Rawleigh Men” sales network. The advent of big box stores and general economic struggles led the company to file for bankruptcy in the 1980s leaving what was once a celebrated icon of prosperity to quickly become a vacant set of buildings posing significant environmental and financial challenges to rehabilitation.
Over the past 20 years the City has put a number of programs in place to attract new businesses and revitalize the downtown. This includes the creation of a public-private economic development corporation, establishment of a Tax Increment Finance district, and implementation of a nationally-recognized Brownfields program that has attracted more than $8 million in state and federal grants. In particular, the City has been actively removing environmental hazards and facilitating reuse of the Rawleigh into a dynamic mixed-use development planned to include a new Amtrak station, light industrial and flexible business space, a restaurant, and housing. To date, two of the five buildings have been sold to private developers: Building A (Office Building) is occupied and the developer of Building D has secured tenants for the first two floors. The City has secured funding to design the multi-modal Station at a third building, Building E.
The Rawleigh Complex consists of five buildings, developed between 1904 and 1956, all of which have concrete and steel construction, open floor plates and brick interior and exterior walls. The buildings are connected to each other by a series of overhead walkways on multiple levels. Previous uses in the buildings consisted of light manufacturing, assembly, packaging, warehousing and offices. Each building has its own architectural detailing reminiscent of the period in which it was built while the common use of red brick presents an impressive and consistent appearance throughout the development.
After the Rawleigh company closed, some of the buildings were leased for warehousing for a short period of time before the property was completely abandoned in 1988. In the mid-1990s, two local boys entered some of the buildings, gathered thermostats and thermometers, and contaminated themselves and their homes with dangerous levels of mercury. This triggered a U.S. EPA emergency response to remove mercury at the Complex and the boys’ homes. This incident heightened the City’s awareness of brownfield issues and triggered its involvement in actively facilitating brownfields cleanup and redevelopment in the City. Since 1999, the City has leveraged more than $4.6 million in state and federal grant funding and technical assistance to gain control of the property, conduct environmental assessment, and clean up contamination. In 2013, the City was issued a final “No Further Remediation” letter from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency for the entire Complex. The only remaining hazardous conditions are the presence of lead paint and limited amounts of asbestos above the first two floors, both of which can be addressed as part of the renovations.
In addition to the five buildings, the Rawleigh Complex also consists of two parking lots on the south side of Spring Street and some small open areas on the east and west sides of the buildings. Running in between the buildings is Liberty Street and an east-west alley which is no longer used for vehicular traffic. The Complex was rezoned in 2013 to a unique district created specifically for the Complex that allows a wide range of uses, and the entire property was replatted in 2014 to create a separate lot for each building. For a full Master Plan of the site click here (link to Master Plan graphic). The Complex is located in the Downtown Tax Increment Finance District and the Downtown Historic District with all of the buildings (with the exception of Building A) begin designated as “contributing” to the historic character of the area. This designation enables project developers to pursue listing individual buildings on the national register of historic places in order to secure federal historic preservation tax credits to greatly reduce redevelopment costs. State tax credits for historic preservation are currently under consideration by the Illinois state legislature.
Building A: Oracle Development – Office Building
This building is the newest in the Complex, built around 1950, and contains approximately 36,000 square feet on three levels. The property was purchased by Oracle Development and redeveloped into a professional office building in the late 1990s. An engineering firm occupies the lower two levels with the third floor available for immediate buildout and occupancy.
Building B: City-owned – Vacant Former Office/Warehouse/Assembly
This highly ornate building housed a number of Rawleigh’s operations including everything from office space, to warehousing, to manufacturing and assembly. The building has 6 full floors consisting of 100,800 square feet including a three-story penthouse. The building is currently vacant and lacks utility connections requiring initial re-occupancy to include at least two full floors (about 33,600 sq. ft.) in order to make rehabilitation cost effective. Uses targeted for the building include artist live/work lofts, art studios and performance space, retail and restaurant space. The City is certainly interested in any inquiries and offers for the property but is currently focusing its efforts on redeveloping Building E. However, there are several short term uses that could be financially viable as described here (link to short term uses- BldgE file).
Building C: City-owned – Vacant Former Powerhouse
The Powerhouse was a coal-burning plant that originally heated and powered the entire complex. As part of the property environmental remediation efforts, most of the equipment has been removed leaving an open 7,100 sq. ft. space with dramatic ceiling heights and a wall of glass that brings in lots of natural light. The building is ideally suited for a restaurant, brewpub (link to brewpub page), music venue, or some combination of all of these. Further, the high ceilings would allow a mezzanine to be constructed that could add to the square footage as shown here. The foundation and walls are structurally sound but the roof is in need of a complete replacement requiring the entire space to be redeveloped and occupied at one time in order to make the renovations financially viable.
Building D: Alber Properties – Multi-Tenant Office/Industrial/Warehouse
The City sold this property to a local businessman in early 2014 to serve as the new headquarters for his company, Protocutter, a precision cutting tool manufacturer. In addition, the property houses additional warehousing, repair, light assembly and office tenants. Currently, two of the six floor have been completed renovated, with renovations of the third floor slated to begin in early 2015. Each floor is approximately 18,000 sq. ft. and can be easily divided into two to four tenant spaces. Given the excellent views to the Pecatonica River to the east, the building owner believes the upper floors would make excellent office space for tech companies and/or a top floor restaurant or bar that would also have roof access.
Building E: Freeport Station
Freeport Station will be a multi-modal hub serving as a regional Amtrak station, a trailhead for the Pecatonica-Prairie Path and Jane Adams bike trails which converge just north of the site, and the primary transfer point for the City’s transit service including the transit offices, dispatch center and service facility. The City has been awarded a $500,000 grant to prepare architectural and engineering designs for the facility in 2015 and anticipates securing state and federal construction funding in order to begin construction in 2016/2017. Restored Amtrak service between Chicago and Rockford will begin in late 2015. The City is working with the state to plan a schedule for moving forward with the needed rail improvements to then extend Amtrak service from Rockford to Dubuque, via Freeport, as soon as possible.
At the time it was built, Building E was the largest, single-purpose warehouse in the world. The concrete, brick and steel construction of all eight floors is as structurally sound as ever, and the exterior metal-cladding will be removed as part of the Freeport Station development exposing an impressive and historic brick façade that is visible from every corner of the downtown and beyond. Freeport Station and related office, retail and dining uses will comprise the entire first floor. The City intends to seek a master developer for other floors in the building but is open to discussions with prospective tenants interested in all or most of the 133,600 square feet. Uses envisioned in the building are those that would complement and benefit from the activity and users of Freeport Station including offices, business enterprise center, and apartments. For more details on Freeport Station, visit www.freeportstation.us.