GENEVA – The oldest – or one of the oldest buildings in Geneva – could be razed despite a preservationist’s bid to save it.
Shodeen Inc. applied for a demolition permit Dec. 20 for a limestone structure built in 1846, the original part of the former Mill Race Inn. The city was founded in 1835.
But when Fred Zinke of Geneva filed an application for landmark designation for the building, the city’s historic preservation ordinance required that the landmark issue be decided first, before consideration of the demolition permit.
“I wanted to try to preserve it," Zinke said. "I think the building is a major historic structure in Geneva. It’s almost as old as the city itself.”
Shodeen created 4 East State Street Holdings LLC, to purchase the Mill Race Inn’s 1.4-acre property at 4 E. State St. in 2014, according to Kane County property records. The restaurant closed in 2011.
Shodeen had already demolished the portions of the former iconic restaurant on the Fox River that were additions to the original limestone structure.
In 2016, city officials had issued a news release stating Shodeen would “evaluate the 1846 limestone sections to see whether the structure can be considered a historic landmark and/or if it could be incorporated into any future development of the property.”
'No way to use it'
Shodeen Group President David Patzelt said the company tried to find a way to use the building, but could not.
"There is no way to use it," Patzelt said. "It can't be repurposed."
The problem is, portions of the limestone structure are in a flood plain, Patzelt said.
"You cannot be permitted to have a structure with openings in the flood plain," Patzelt said.
The company also tried to see how much it would cost to move it, but because of the weight of the limestone, it would be cost-prohibitive, Patzelt said. What Shodeen would build there is still under review.
But he said the city's comprehensive plan and its tax increment finance district – which identify the Mill Race area as an opportunity site for redevelopment – is in conflict with the city's historic preservation ordinance.
"It's conflicting information," Patzelt said.
The Historic Preservation Commission will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. Feb. 20 at the Public Works building, 1800 South St., Geneva, to consider the landmark nomination.
The commission will recommend whether it should have a landmark designation, but the City Council will make the final determination, Zinke said.
“It’s a multi-step process,” Zinke said.
If the property owner files a written objection with the city, then a supermajority of the City Council – or seven aldermen – would have to vote to approve it for landmark status, according to the ordinance.
Patzelt said the filing of an objection is under review.
“If Shodeen – or anybody else – comes in later and makes a really good case that the building needs to be taken down – yes, the City Council could approve that,” Zinke said. “They do have final authority, no doubt about that.”
Zinke said he was the historic preservation planner for Oak Park for 25 years and has an interest in historic preservation. As his wife, Carolyn Zinke, serves on the Historic Preservation Commission, she has recused herself from the public hearing on the Mill Race application.
As per the city’s historic preservation ordinance, Zinke made a $500 deposit with his application for landmark status. The ordinance states the money is to be used to cover the cost of expenses, such as the public hearing, public notices and transcription services.
'A stay of execution'
First Ward Alderman Mike Bruno, who had served on the Historic Preservation Commission, said the limestone building is 30-feet-by-50-feet.
“It’s got a lot of history to it,” Bruno said. “It is possibly the oldest remaining building in Geneva – and if not the oldest, one of the oldest.”
Bruno described that getting historic landmark status for the building could just be a “stay of execution.”
“They can’t demolish it yet. That does not mean it won’t be demolished,” Bruno said. “Landmarking it puts a stay of execution on it. If … a perfect project is presented that is so beneficial to the community, it might outweigh the value of preserving a historic building.”
Bruno said he cannot say what that “perfect” project might be as he has not seen any plan yet.
“The City Council can always vote to allow demolition, landmarked or not,” Bruno said.
The city’s ordinance allows a third party to landmark a property, Bruno said.
“If this goes through, it would be the second time such a [non-owner] landmarking has occurred in 36 years,” Bruno said.
Terry Emma, executive director of the Geneva History Museum, said she would be disappointed if the 172-year-old limestone structure were to be torn down.
“It’s a bummer to me that it is potentially going to be gone,” Emma said. “I realize the potential for that land is huge for Geneva. And Shodeen, in the past, has been very diligent about preserving some of Geneva’s wonderful buildings – Dodson Place, Herrington Inn and Riverside Banquets.”
Emma said she believes demolition is not the developer’s intention, but that the building’s presence may be inhibiting the design of whatever Shodeen is planning for that area.
Written comments on the application for historic landmark status can be submitted to Geneva Preservation Planner Michael Lambert, 22 S. First St., Geneva, IL 60134. Comments will be accepted until 5 p.m. Feb. 20.