New Hotel Complex is a Boon to Downtown

A once-abandoned icon of Rockford’s industrial past has been converted into a beautiful new destination.
After nearly three years of renovation, the Ziock Building has been transformed into the Embassy Suites by Hilton Rockford Riverfront. It adjoins the new Lawrence J. Morrissey Rockford Conference Center.

The project “clearly exceeds our expectations and we’re proud that it’s here,” says Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara. “It’s also great that [CEO] Gary Gorman followed through on his promise to use local labor and artists to help beautify a magnificent building.”

Wisconsin-based Gorman & Company Inc. is the developer that produced the $87.5 million conversion.
The original part of the structure is 107 years old and had numerous industrial uses since it opened as a knitting mill in 1913. It stood vacant for at least 25 years, barely escaping the wrecking ball.

The hotel has 160 suites with a sleeping area separate from the living/kitchenette area. Prices vary from $149 to $239 per night. A typical corner room with king bed is 550 square feet. Most windows have floor-to-ceiling construction from the original factory design.

“We’ve worked very hard to preserve the building’s historic charm,” says Fred DeLaRosa, the hotel’s general manager.

The “industrial chic” motif includes massive concrete pillars, re-installed wood block flooring and original metal fire doors flanking newer doorways. Artifacts from prior manufacturing processes, such as a steam boiler and an overhead conveyor once used to dry hardware after metal coating, serve as decor elements. Artwork throughout the building features scenes from Rockford’s past.

The hotel has two restaurants, one on the roof and one at ground level. Named “The Top,” the 11th-12th floor restaurant/lounge has indoor/outdoor seating with spectacular views of the Rock River and downtown Rockford. Items like ahi tuna nachos, flatbreads, pizzas and hand-crafted cocktails are served and there’s a Friday afternoon happy hour.

The Tower Tap and Grill on the ground floor has indoor/outdoor patio seating opening onto Davis Park. It serves upscale American fare and hosts a complimentary evening reception for guests from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. daily.

The spacious lobby opens onto the main entrance at street level on South Main Street. Behind the front desk is a large installation by local artist Jeremy Klondicki, from MainFraim Studios. It depicts a map of downtown Rockford made entirely from materials reclaimed from the former Amerock building.

Other amenities include a fitness center, a game room with a golf simulator and a ground-level pool and hot tub.

Rockford Roasting Co., a third-party tenant, recently opened a coffee shop on the main floor. Also on the main floor, guests enjoy a complimentary breakfast.

Hilton hotels use a series of pandemic protocols to ensure guest safety. Each room is sanitized and sealed with a sticker to indicate no one has entered the room since the cleaning. There’s a virtual check-in, with room “keys” delivered to your smartphone, making personal contact with a desk clerk unnecessary.

The hotel lobby is all-new construction and connects the hotel to the newly named Lawrence J. Morrissey Rockford Conference Center, so named to honor the efforts of Rockford’s former mayor to bring the complex to the city. He made several trips to China to obtain investors and also obtained state and federal income tax credits to keep them interested.

While the hotel building is owned by Gorman & Co., the $13 million Conference Center is owned by the city. Officials say bonds sold to finance its construction will be repaid without raising taxes. Gorman & Co. is the management company for both facilities. Embassy Suites is an independently owned and operated franchise of Hilton.

The Center contains 14,000 square feet of flexible event space, including the 7,800-square-foot Ziock grand ballroom, with 20-foot ceilings and audio-visual equipment.

“We can host 800 guests for dinner, or a nice wedding reception with a dance floor for 450 guests,” says DeLaRosa.

Stakeholders in downtown Rockford’s renaissance see the arrival of a marquis hotel complex as part of a natural progression. Projects like Prairie Street Brewhouse, UW Health Sports Factory, Indoor/Outdoor Rockford City Market, new market-rate housing, the museum campus and the restored Coronado center have reshaped downtown Rockford into a desirable destination.

“In today’s world, people are making decisions about where they want to live before they decide where they want to work,” says Bryant. “The more things we have that work for people, the better chance we have for growth over time.” ❚