Transforming History: A New Chapter for Downtown Rockford

November 2, 2022

Downtown Rockford, Illinois is poised to undergo a significant transformation with the announcement of a massive $400 million redevelopment project. The Milwaukee-based J. Jeffers & Co. has put forward plans to transform the historic Barber-Colman industrial campus into a thriving mixed-use community, with a projected groundbreaking in spring 2023​1​.

The project, dubbed "Colman Yards," will develop the blighted 22-acre Barber-Colman site located off South Main Street in the 1200 block of Rock Street. J. Jeffers & Co. aims to restore 10 historic structures on the site, in addition to constructing 73 new townhouses and 43 new three-flat buildings. The project is expected to span nearly a decade in phases and will eventually include 964 market-rate residential units.

J. Jeffers & Co. is known for its ambitious urban redevelopment projects. The company has a track record of successful revitalizations in Milwaukee and Racine, Wisconsin, with project costs ranging from $11 million to $200 million. These projects have included the rehabilitation of historic buildings and the construction of new structures, often blending residential, commercial, and community use​2​.

The Barber-Colman site has a rich history in Rockford. Founded by Howard Colman and W.A. Barber in 1894, the Barber-Colman Company was a major manufacturer of textile and milling machinery. At its peak, it had manufacturing facilities in five states and three countries. The company's decline began in the 1980s and the complex has been vacant since 2001​3​.

The redevelopment of this historic site holds significant potential for the city of Rockford, Illinois' third-largest city. While the exact economic and community impact is still being evaluated, it's clear that this project will breathe new life into a long-neglected area of the city, creating a range of new residential and commercial opportunities.

There are, however, still uncertainties to be resolved. The city and J. Jeffers & Co. continue to negotiate a development agreement, which will outline the details of the project and any tax incentives or assistance that the city will provide to make it viable. The agreement will require City Council review and approval, and it is not yet known when this will be finalized​1​.

As the project continues to take shape, the Rockford Small Business Development Center is committed to keeping the community updated on its progress and potential impacts. We anticipate this project will play a significant role in the ongoing revitalization of Rockford's downtown area and look forward to seeing it come to fruition.

Stay tuned for more information as we continue to track this exciting development in Rockford's history.

[Please note: As of June 2023, specific economic impact assessments and further details about the Colman Yards project are not yet available. We will provide updates as more information becomes available.]