City Council members on Monday, Oct. 2, 2023, approved an agreement to sell the former Rockford Watch Co. factory, 325 S. Madison St., to developer Oliver Emerson. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)
By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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  • Two videos below take you inside the historic Rockford Watch Co. factory and the city’s first Walgreens.

ROCKFORD  — City Council members on Monday approved an agreement to sell two historic buildings in downtown to a local developer.

Aldermen voted 12-0 to approve the sale of the former Rockford Watch Co. factory, 325 S. Madison St., and the city’s first Walgreens, 134 N. Main St., to Oliver Emerson Development, a father-and-son real estate team.

“Both properties are not only architecturally significant but culturally and commercially significant,” Alderman Mark Bonne said before casting his vote.

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The purchase agreement includes a one-year due diligence period, with the potential for City Council extension, before the sale closes.

The watch factory building would be sold for $55,000 and the former Walgreens for $70,000. Both amounts represent the appraised value of each property.

The city would provide financial support through a pay-as-you-go tax increment finance district and a $1.2 million subsidy via a forgivable loan.

TIF districts reward developers for increasing the value of their property by repaying the additional property taxes that come with the higher property values to go toward redevelopment initiatives.

“As a developer, you’re taking a much greater risk with this kind of a project,” Bonne said. “Preservation is hard work. Saving historic properties is a much more intricate proposition than building on vacant land.”

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Last week we toured through both the watch factory and the city’s first Walgreens. You can watch the videos below to see the inside both facilities and hear about the history from Rob Wilhelmi, the city’s brownfields redevelopment specialist.

Inside the Rockford Watch Co. factory

Location: 325 S. Madison St., Rockford

When it opened: Rockford Watch Co. was organized in 1874, and the original wing of the L-shaped configuration was built between 1875 and 1876, according to the city. The first watches were released in 1876. The north south wing was added between 1880 and 1887.

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When it closed: Rockford Watch Co. closed in 1915. The building was then subject to several additions that housed multiple other tenants, including the Rockford Board of Education. The city acquired the property in 2014.

What’s planned: There would be 23-market rate apartments in the first phase, which is estimated to cost about $7.3 million. A second phase could add 30 more apartments and eight row houses south of the building.

Inside the Trekk building

Location: 134 N. Main St., Rockford

When it opened: The building was constructed in 1929 and originally housed the city’s first Walgreens drug store, which operated there for 40 years.

When it closed: Walgreens closed that location in 1969. The building then housed a variety of shops and offices, the last of which was the Trekk advertising agency. The city purchased the building in 2013.

What’s planned: The estimated $5.8 million project would create 10 market-rate apartments on the second floor with ground floor commercial space.

Compiled by Kevin Haas. Email him at or follow him on X at @KevinMHaas or Instagram @thekevinhaas and Threads @thekevinhaas

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