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Geneva aldermen to let the market decide downtown occupancy

GENEVA – After a nearly two-hour discussion Monday on whether to tweak the zoning of its downtown region to discourage offices and banks in favor of retail on the first floor, Geneva aldermen decided to let the market determine what goes where.

Aldermen discussed amendments at a special committee of the whole. And after hearing from downtown business owners and landlords, decided by consensus to leave things as they are.

"Really, doing nothing is doing quite a bit," said Mayor Kevin Burns. "It is conveying faith in the market. By not acting, we are acting aggressively."

Fifth Ward Alderman Craig Maladra cautioned, however, that if the market were to get out of balance, officials would have to act.

"The task before us is what can we do collectively to ensure we have a strong and vibrant retail core," Maladra said. "The measure of both is growth."

City Planner David DeGroot presented options to restrict locating new offices and banks in areas zoned B2 along West State Street and Third Street. 

The concern is that banks and offices do not produce sales tax, create gaps in downtown retail activities and keep already vacant office space on the second floor vacant. The officials' goal was to consider ways to strengthen the downtown shopping core.

Resident Michael Simon, who owns The Little Traveler and other downtown properties, said he could speak as a resident, business owner and landlord.

Simon said when he asks people he knows what brought them downtown, they say they had errands to run – at the bank, a hair cut or manicure, dry cleaning or an oil change.

"If we take those away, we take away … more reasons to come downtown," Simon said.

Simon and Joseph Stanton, another downtown property owner, said landlords need flexibility in renting to other tenants if retailers are not willing to sign a lease.

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