Our Story


Refugees from Southeast Asia settle in Rockford’s Midtown. Major recession and unemployment hit the Rockford area.


Members of Zion Lutheran Church (ZLC) found ZION Development Corporation (ZDC) to address economic needs of the neighborhood.


ZDC establishes quality control workshop employing neighbors to sort screws in ZLC parish house with contracts from Amerock Corporation. To help new immigrants settle in, ZDC offers English as a Second Language (ESL) classes through Rock Valley College. Zion Church leader and sales executive Curt Wahlmark serves as ZDC’s first Executive Director, calling on local corporations for workshop contracts. 


Thriving ZDC workshop expands and moves to the M. West Center at Third Avenue and Fifth Street.


Salem Lutheran Church staffer Dale Johnson becomes Executive Director, assists with the workshop’s move and encourages congregations to volunteer with ZDC. ZDC buys its first house for rehabilitation in the 500 block of Fifth Street. ZDC assists Montessori Learning Path in locating at Bethany Methodist Church at Third Avenue and Eighth Street, bringing new educational resources to the neighborhood. ZDC opens textile arts store on Seventh Street to enable Hmong artists to sell their work on consignment. ZDC leases a building at 1516 Seventh Street to expand the workshop.


Les Lewis, employment specialist with not-for-profit experience, becomes Executive Director and establishes contacts for workshop. ZDC begins summer youth internship program with rafting on the Kishwaukee River. ZDC purchases and operates Top Hat Catering and Wedding Center on Broadway to provide employment and services to neighborhood residents. Sophia Electronics opens on Seventh Street with ZDC’s help, providing work for neighbors.


Retired corporate president Curt Reynolds becomes volunteer Executive Director, establishes ZION’s organizational structure and provides leadership in housing rehabilitation and business development. As a a result of Top Hat business, ZDC develops Oriental Express restaurant on Broadway specializing in egg rolls and Chinese food prepared by area residents.


ZDC is a partner in opening The Dove, an employment training and boat building business opportunity for military veterans to learn fiberglass technology.


ZDC wins the prestigious 11th Annual Excelsior Award sponsored by the Rockford Register Star to recognize positive impact on life in the Rock River Valley. ZDC begins purchase and rehab of apartment buildings in the 500 block of Fifth Street to eliminate blight and produce new housing.


First annual Spring Banquet, ZDC fundraiser, is held at City Club, located atop the AMCORE Bank headquarters on Seventh Street. 


ZDC provides leadership in the formation of the Seventh Street Area Development Council, the forerunner of the Midtown District, to encourage business development. To eliminate prostitution and drug dealing, ZDC purchases Rockford’s only adult bookstore, refuses to renew the lease, and partners with the City to prevent the operation of such businesses anywhere in the community.


Rockford native Brad Roos returns from Champaign-Urbana to become Executive Director, bringing 14 years of not-for-profit experience in housing, construction, and human services. US News and World Report names a census tract in the 61104-zip code as the ninth poorest, predominantly white area in the nation. ZDC completes the renovation of the mixed-use building at 524 7th Street into the ZDC offices and two upstairs apartments. 


ZDC builds 12 new energy-efficient townhomes, the first new residential construction in the neighborhood in decades.


ZDC purchases the Grand Hotel, the most dangerous building in nine counties, according to police records, to reduce crime and create permanent supportive housing for those coming out of homelessness. ZDC completes $1 million renovation of The National Building on 7th Street, transforming a deteriorated, dangerous flophouse into eight safe, nice, affordable apartments and 2,800 square feet of commercial space.


ZDC completes $6 million renovation of a former hotel to create Longwood Plaza, 65 attractive, affordable apartments for seniors with lower incomes.


To end homelessness, ZDC transforms the Grand Hotel into 45 apartments as Rockford’s first permanent, supportive housing facility, a $5.3 million project. ZDC wins a $3 million private grant to establish the Walter D. Williams Wellness Program on-site at Longwood Plaza for the residents. The Doors of Rockford Art Show and Auction becomes ZDC’s first annual fall fundraiser. To eliminate related prostitution and drug dealing, ZDC purchases and demolishes the Squeeze Inn on Seventh Street. Pickerman’s Soup & Sandwich Shop, the first franchised restaurant in Midtown history, opens in ZDC’s renovated National Building at 528 7th Street. 


ZDC establishes the Choppi Youth Leadership Program to help develop young neighborhood leaders.


With Rockford Area Lutheran Ministries (RALM), ZDC begins community-wide Katie’s Cup Conversations about issues of the day as viewed “through the lens of faith.”


Illinois Department on Aging awards ZDC’s Walter D. Williams Wellness Program the Governor’s Unique Achievement Award, recognizing positive impact in the lives of seniors. ZDC begins the Lantow Lofts capital campaign for the area’s first market-rate condo project to attract middle and upper-income residents to the Midtown neighborhood.


Midtown residents begin training in Asset-Based Community Development with the help of a $5,000 ZDC-won grant from the Margaret K. Aldeen Christian Ministry Fund at the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois. Dale Sanders, retired nonprofit executive, joins ZDC as the first Chief Operating Officer. The ZDC Yard Machines lawn maintenance business begins, providing jobs for neighborhood residents in caring for area properties. Partnership with Lutheran Social Services (LSSI) prevents homelessness by providing transitional living services for youth aging out of foster care. ZDC kicks off its 25th anniversary with a Silver Bells Celebration.


ZDC completes the Lantow Lofts project, creating seven upscale loft condos to bring middle and upper-income residents to the Midtown neighborhood. The real estate market and the US economy take downturns.


ZION Development and RALM open Katie’s Cup Coffee Bar and Bookstore in the Lantow Lofts building. Katie’s Cup immediately brings in customers from all over the Rockford area, especially young, educated people, a new and enthusiastic demographic group for the Midtown District. ZDC and the daughters of Chet Anders award Jane LaGrande and Zion Lutheran Church with the First Annual Chet Anderson Civic Hero Award. ZDC partners with Patriots’ Gateway Center and Chicago International Charter Schools (CICS) to win a charter for a public charter school, K-12 for up to 1,500 students. The real estate market and the economy continue to drop, putting great pressure on the Rockford area, and particularly on the poor in Midtown.


ZION Development works closely with Patriots’ Gateway and CICS to open a public charter school (K-4) at Patriots’ Gateway Center with 251 students. Bob Campbell, a neighbor and former ZION Development employee completes his master’s thesis on the cost savings impact of ZION’s Walter D. Williams Wellness Program at Longwood Gardens. The study provides evidence that this wellness program is the best such program for seniors in the nation. ZION is asked by a collection of community organizations to be the lead applicant for a Promise Neighborhood federal planning grant. The Promise Neighborhood program is based on the spectacular success of Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone program in New York. The national and local economy and real estate market remain shaky and pressures on the poor in Midtown remain intense.


CICS-Patriots Charter School begins its second year of operation with 351 students in grades K-5. Police records reveal that property-related crimes in the four blocks around Katie’s Cup Coffee Bar and Bookstore decreased by 300% over the three years since Katie’s Cup opened. The national and local economy continues to show only a slow recovery. Rockford’s area median income has increased by only 1.6% over the past 10 years. ZDC continues to promote the concepts of Christian Community Development and a small group of interest faith leaders forms over the topic. ZDC invites Geoffrey Canada (CEO of Harlem Children’s Zone) to speak in Rockford. Canada agrees and ZDC joins United Way, the Chamber of Commerce, Alignment Rockford, and the Rockford Human Services Department to organize and promote Canada’s visit.