Historic downtown Rock Island building to become lofts

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An old Montgomery Ward department store will soon be home to dozens of Rock Island residents. Monday evening, the City Council approved a development agreement with Mark Roemer to turn the historic downtown VanDerGinst Building into loft apartments.

For the past two decades, the VanDerGinst Law Offices have occupied the building. The firm is now moving to an office on John Deere Road, and current owner Dennis VanDerGinst said the building’s stories are what he’ll miss most.

“It’s a rock-solid building, I love the building, but it’s got a lot of great history,” said VanDerGinst.

One of those stories even includes notorious Rock Island gangster John Looney.

“Apparently, one of the tenants in the building owed a gambling debt, and there was a tussle on the fifth floor here, and apparently he was tossed out the window,” said VanDerGinst.

Built in 1908, the VanDerGinst Building was once known as the Best Building. It was first home to Young & McComb Department Store, and later to Montgomery Ward in the 1930s.

Now, local developer Mark Roemer hopes to capitalize on the building’s views of the Mississippi River and historic exteriors by turning the six-story building into 44 lofts and 5 commercial spaces.

“There’s not a whole lot of the historical aspect on the inside, but we’re going to keep the mural on the back, we’re going to keep all the exterior unique attributes, and then we’re going to add decks on the sixth floor to all 10 apartments,” said Roemer.

The $5.3 million project is called Riverview Lofts, and includes new public sidewalks and lighting for the building’s Chief Black Hawk mural. Roemer is one of the first private housing developers to take an interest in downtown Rock Island.

“The building’s been around for over 100 years, so I hope it’ll be here for another 100,” said VanDerGinst.

The apartments will be market rate, likely going for $725 to $1000. Roemer hopes to start construction in the next few months, and move-in will likely begin in November of 2014.