Sterling fire aftermath illustrates redevelopment vision

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Investigators are looking for two teenage Sterling-area boys that may be responsible for setting a fire at a vacant plant on Sunday.

The latest round of vandalism is reinforcing the call for redevelopment in Sterling.

Nearly a day after a fire at the former Lawrence Hardware plant, a smoky smell still lingers. The stench is a sad reminder of what used to be in Sterling.

"Unfortunately, with the change in the global economy, we've had a big change along that riverfront," said Sterling City Manager Scott Shumard.

The building, which is now owned by the city,  is at Sterling's gateway. It's an eyesore instead of an enterprise. It's littered with smashed windows and tagged with graffiti. There's even a phone dangling from a window over the Rock River.

"I definitely look forward to the day when we won't have to deal with getting called out to respond to vandalism, graffiti or copper thefts," said Detective Ryan Brownell, Sterling Police.

The latest fire was apparently set by kids on Sunday afternoon. Nobody was hurt and damage was minimized, but firefighters also found hazardous chemicals inside the building.

It's a chronic problem for a community looking to reinvent itself. It represents a painful transition from its industrial past to a residential future.

Sterling wants to transform the riverfront into real estate. The $67 million pricetag includes residential and commerical opportunities.

"We're looking to reclaim that riverfront because we've never had a riverfront for the people or for the community, really," Shumard said.

But there are many hurdles to clear. It could take years before the buildings are environmentally sound and attractive to developers.

"Most importantly, I don't want to have to get called out to somebody that gets injured or killed from being down there," Detective Brownell concluded.

From vandalism to a vision, a city is shaping its future.

Anybody with information on Sunday's fire should contact Sterling Police at (815) 632-6640 or Whiteside County Crime Stoppers at (815) 625-7867.