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Geneva Chamber seeks $98K from Riverboat Fund for visitors center

GENEVA – The Geneva Chamber of Commerce is seeking a grant of nearly $98,300 from the Kane County Riverboat Fund to set up a first-floor visitors center at 10 S. Third St., officials said.

Having a visitors center is one of the Chamber’s goals for this year, as detailed in its 2012 annual report on tourism.

“We applied for riverboat grant money for the visitors center,” Geneva Chamber President Jean Gaines said. “We think it is important to have a visitors center at the county seat, and we hope they think it’s worthy, too.”

Through an agreement, the county receives 7.5 percent of net operating income from the Elgin Riverboat Resort – the Grand Victoria Foundation. The grants will be used in education, environment and economic development, according to the agreement.

Gaines said the visitors center project would involve renovation, such as knocking out a wall to put in a handicapped accessible restroom, air conditioning, carpeting, lighting and other amenities.

Gaines said the Chamber did not get riverboat money from its grant application last year for a different purpose. She said the Chamber does not expect to get the full amount requested for this year, but officials hope to get funding for the visitors center project.

Gaines said the Chamber could do more if it received grant money, but the project will go forward regardless.

“It might mean the difference between a card table and a desk,” Gaines said.

The Chamber is on the second floor of the same building at 8 S. Third St., up a steep staircase. Gaines said officials would keep that space for Chamber use, in addition to a first-floor visitors center.

Scott Berger, Kane County Office of Reinvestment director, who oversees the riverboat grant program, said the Chamber’s grant application was one of 67 the county received.

“It would appear they are requesting 100 percent of the cost of the project from the county,” Berger said.

The total amount requested from all the applicants of riverboat funds this year is just under $3 million, Berger said.

“That is not uncommon, there is a lot of interest in the riverboat fund,” Berger said. “Municipalities and nonprofits seek out the revenue for their projects.”

Grant awards will be made this spring in time for construction season, he said.

Mayor Kevin Burns said having a first-floor visitors center in downtown Geneva is not only important for the city but also for the region.

“Half a million people come to Geneva every year,” Burns said. “And with the Chamber of Commerce, having the opportunity to greet those individuals in a more convenient and comfortable manner by having a first-floor presence is key to continuing their customer service.”

Burns added the Chamber would be positioned there not only to market Geneva to the public but also the Fox Valley.

County Board member John Hoscheit, R-St. Charles, chairman of the riverboat subcommittee, said requests usually are granted in February, but the schedule was delayed this year because of staffing changes.

“Our goal is to get these funds out to the public so they can use it,” Hoscheit said.

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