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Stanton makes offer on Mill Race Inn

GENEVA – Joseph Stanton put in a bid last week to buy the Mill Race Inn, with the possibility of redeveloping the site as condominiums rather than as another restaurant.

“I’m not sure what I would put there,” said Stanton, a Geneva businessman and developer. “If I could rezone it for condos on the river, that would be a good way to get more downtown residential.”

Stanton, who owns several properties and a business in downtown Geneva, said he does not envision the shuttered historic restaurant at 4 E. State St., Geneva, as being salvageable. Built in 1842 as a blacksmith shop, it became a restaurant in 1944. It closed in January 2011 and is owned by Plaza Bank.

The selling price of the property recently was reduced to $899,000, prompting a small flurry of renewed interest, officials said.

Edward Bluemel, vice president for Plaza Bank in Chicago that owns the Mill Race property, said a counter-offer was made to Stanton on Thursday. Stanton said he had not yet seen it and could not comment.

“I’m sure they would consider mine a low offer,” Stanton said. “My bid was lower, but it was based on doing my homework.”

That “homework” involved subtracting the estimated $100,000 cost of demolition from the value of the land. Stanton said developers likely were putting in bids that subtracted that expense.

“That is a gigantic difference in price, and [bank officials] are just coming to terms with that now,” Stanton said. “I don’t think they understood the damage to the building. I think they are a little bit in shock with where the offers are coming in at. I think after the last storm, it’s no longer a building that is in disrepair. It’s a building that has to be taken down.”

Neither Bluemel nor Stanton would reveal what the offer was. Bluemel said it was half of what other, too-low offers the bank was receiving.

Bluemel also disagreed with Stanton’s assessment that the bank had not figured in the cost of demolition in the low offers it was receiving.

“We always thought it was going to be tear-down redevelopment,” Bluemel said.
Stanton said the site, 1.3 acres on the river, likely could not sustain commercial or retail because it is out of the way.

“A restaurant might work, but at what price?” Stanton said. “It’s expensive to rip this down and build new and outfit it as a restaurant – that could cost $2.5 million to $3 million. I’m not sure whether that is feasible. In my heart, I would love to see a restaurant at that site. If someone was offering to buy it from the bank and would put a restaurant at that site, I would walk away.”

Tom Burgess of Geneva, CEO and founder of Burgess Commercial Real Estate in Aurora, said he was in talks with the bank on the Mill Race property, but would not discuss price or a development for the site.

Burgess agreed that the restaurant is not viable.

“I think it’s a terrible shame that the old grand dame of Geneva restaurants has been allowed to fall into such disrepair,” Burgess said. “I don’t think what is there can be turned into anything. … It’s so sad. I remember that place. My grandparents celebrated events there, my mom and dad, I did. It was one of those places the community went to celebrate its wonderful events. It’s not there anymore and we need to move on.”

Burgess said the location could be for a new restaurant.

“The Mill Race was there for decades – for generations – so certainly the location could be utilized as a restaurant,” Burgess said. “Because the building was not taken care of, it’s history.”

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