GENEVA – Aldermen voted April 15 to approve a contract with a design group to lead a five-day planning process called a charrette to determine how to redevelop the Mill Race Inn site at 4 E. State St.
The purpose is to arrive at a consensus to improve the gateway to the city, improve economic conditions, stimulate commercial and residential growth and enhance the tax base, officials said.
The agreement calls for the city to split the $273,400 cost with the owners, the Shodeen Family Foundation, to hire the Hitchcock Design Group to facilitate the process.
Each will spend $136,700, officials said. The city’s share will come from tax increment finance money.
At the end of the process, the city’s residents, public agencies, business owners, employees, students and visitors would have an opportunity for input and consensus on a final plan, officials said.
They first voted at a special Committee of the Whole and then at the regular City Council meeting which followed.
Fourth Ward Alderman James Radecki voted no both times; 3rd Ward Alderman Jeanne McGowan was absent.
Radecki said they were at this point because members of the public were successful in achieving historic landmark status for the 1846 limestone structure, an original part of the Mill Race Inn.
Last May, Radecki cast the lone no vote on landmarking the structure.
Radecki said he would not support spending taxpayers’ money on the charrette.
“I think it’s fundamentally wrong,” Radecki said. “If we are going to embolden people to be able to landmark a property and go ahead and cause encumbrances that are going to generate these types of expenses … The applicants for the landmark status should bear that.”
But 1st Ward Alderman Michael Bruno said the area was a critical part of the Geneva gateway.
“I feel morally obligated since we had encumbered the property through landmarking that we do put some skin in the game and make this happen,” Bruno said. “I’m on board with this agreement.”
Bruno said landmarking the property does not mean it cannot at some point be razed if the community cannot come up with a viable use for it.
Resident Colin Campbell, who participated in seeking to landmark the limestone structure, said the area is “one of the potential gems of the city.”
“In terms of the charrette, I think this is one of the greatest opportunities for development Geneva has come across in a long time,” Campbell said. “The idea of having a charrette and involving the community … we have done before and with a lot of success.”
Campbell echoed Bruno’s comment, that landmarking the limestone structure was a bid to buy time to see if it could be saved.
Fifth Ward Alderman Craig Maladra said re-arguing the landmarking of the property was “water under the bridge.”
“The fact is, we have this property that is very critical to our downtown,” Maladra said.
“The city would like to see it developed. The community would like to see it developed,” Maladra said. “Rather than a burden, I look at it as an exciting opportunity to engage the community in our strategic planning efforts … in what is going to work best in that location.”
Dave Patzelt, president of the Shodeen Group, said they were participating in a charrette for the first time.
“It’s clearly a different approach and something that was rather interesting and intriguing when I first heard about it,” Patzelt said. “Why would we want to take this approach? The answer to that is, the intent is … if someone does not come [during] the five days and says, ‘I don’t like it because of this,’ you’re too late to the party because the party’s over.”
Patzelt said they were interested in seeing what the community spirit will bring forward and build consensus.
“We are also in our four walls of our own building, confused as to what that site should be, and so we’re hoping that this community spirit team of everybody throwing out ideas – works.”
Rick Hitchcock, senior principle of the Hitchcock Group, said the idea of the five meetings during the day and in the evening is to come out with a consensus of what should be developed there.
His firm will have a full staff of professionals –architects, historic planners, urban planners designers, engineers, scientists, market economists – to work on the project, beginning with a public outreach.
“We don’t dismiss ideas,” Hitchcock said. “We are not interested in squashing ideas or public expression in any point in the process.”
The goal is for the design group to have a consensus on redevelopment of that site by July 1.