On any other day of the year, the signs dotting the landscape around the I-90 corridor welcome you to Rockford. But for a few weeks last April, the town was known simply as Trickford. It was in homage, of course, to local pop rock band Cheap Trick, which had just been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after an illustrious 40-year career. The members still very much consider the town home (Rick Nielsen and Bun E. Carlos continue to have residences, and Nielsen is part owner of The Stockholm Inn), and it’s clear the admiration was mutual as Rockford elaborately feted its prodigal sons in a carefully curated series of events, steered in large part by the Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“We immediately had a conversation of how we could extend a thank you to the band but also make it a way to promote our community,” says Director of Marketing and Public Affairs Josh Albrecht. The campaign included creating the gotrickford.com website, getting Mayor Larry Morrissey to issue an official proclamation, renaming streets to Honorable Ways and hanging up banners that let residents and visitors know they were being watched over by the “Dream Police.” Says Albrecht, “It was really a fun way to celebrate within the community and also get some attention for Rockford in the process.”
The plan worked—at the moment, Rockford is in the middle of a development boom, with many realizing there are plenty more reasons why this northwest town really rocks.
UW Health Sports Factory
Another part of the recent growing attraction to Rockford is the redevelopment of the downtown district, says Albrecht. “It’s really going through a huge revitalization right now. The city has really begun to reinvest in the downtown core quite heavily.” At the heart of that is an investment in gut rehabbing a massive 100,000-square-foot complex called the UW Health Sports Factory. Opened last June, it sits right on the banks of the Rock River, and was once the site of an old industrial factory.
While a majority of its purpose is to further attract the number of sporting events that have flocked to the area, Albrecht notes, “It was specifically designed so that we can house large conferences as well.” The CVB also likes to market the bustling Friday night Rockford City Market as an add-on opportunity for conference guests right outside the facility doors. “It features all locally sourced products and services, including craft breweries that come and set up as well as actual farmers who bring their goods.”
Also check out: Giovanni’s Restaurant & Convention Center, Coronado Theater, Cliffbreakers Riverside Hotel & Conference Center
Prairie Street Brewing Co.
“The thing I really like about it is it’s a micro brewhouse, and they specialize in micro meetings,” says Albrecht of one of Rockford’s oldest breweries that was recently “brought back to life” and now specializes in private events. That includes the 7,000-square-foot Barrel Room with vaulted ceilings, custom ironwork and an outdoor entry for up to 300 guests; the 2,000-square-foot Bottling House with a lush river view that comfortably fits 100 people; the Peacock Room, Ice Cellar and Malt Room each offering 1,500 square feet for 60 guests; and the 16-person Petritz Boardroom with a handcrafted wooden table.
Of course, a highlight of Prairie Street Brewing Co. is also the food, with a varied menu offering tasty plates such as burgers, flatbreads, salads, aged cheeses, and entrees including coulotte steak, orechiette pasta and seared salmon. “We do have a separate catering menu for private events but are open to customization as well,” says Nicole Blough, assistant events manager, touting more benefits of hosting here. “We offer a blank canvas, and our professional on-site coordination staff is here to ensure every event is seamless from start to finish.”
Also check out: GreenFire, Lino’s, Stockholm Inn
One of the best features of this adventure sports company is that it can facilitate thrilling activities year-round—a facet that’s hard to come by in the weather-fickle Chicago area. “In warmer months, we offer kayaking, canoeing, and stand-up paddle boarding [the season is April to October]. And when the rivers freeze, we take to the trails for crosscountry skiing or snowshoeing,” says General Manager Kevin Versino, noting all skill levels are welcome. Additionally, kayaking is offered in a pool December to March. Group outings can include an instruction component as well as team-building coordination, “so all participants will not only walk away with a memorable outdoor experience; they will also walk away with some knowledge.” Sizes of groups are handled on a case-by-case basis and are dependent on the event calendar, so call early. “Typically we can handle up to 30 people in paddle season, and around 25 for winter season,” says Versino. “But with some creative logistical planning, we can handle more.”
Also check out: BMO Harris Bank Center, Knockerball, Tasty Tidbits
Anderson Japanese Gardens
Need a tranquil spot for your next event? Consider this nature-filled oasis, often ranked one of the top three Japanese-style gardens in the United States. Across the 12-acre swath, you’ll find the three main elements (stone, water, and plant life) carefully designed and manicured alongside pagodas, winding paths and bridges decorated with lanterns and sculptures that provoke feelings of calm, renewal and discovery. The “Garden of Reflection” is also home to a number of species of fish and ducks. The grounds are not only great for day tours but can also become an ideal spot for evening celebrations and retreats. “We have an outdoor event pavilion that can be rented for weddings up to 200 guests. They’re nestled in the Gardens with a spectacular view, and on the lower level there’s a gallery for corporate meetings and seminars of up to 60 guests, which is great for privacy,” says Katie Weston, events coordinator. “The added benefit of events here is exposing people to the beauty the gardens have.”
Also check out: Burpee Museum, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Laurent House, Rockford Art Museum