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Mill Race Inn proposal: $35M investment for housing, public riverwalk

'We would create a compelling public riverfront attraction'

Lance Thies, an urban planner and designer with the Hitchcock Design Group, speaks about a proposal for redeveloping the former Mill Race Inn June 27 at the last of three charrette planning sessions held at the Riverside Receptions & Conference Center.
Lance Thies, an urban planner and designer with the Hitchcock Design Group, speaks about a proposal for redeveloping the former Mill Race Inn June 27 at the last of three charrette planning sessions held at the Riverside Receptions & Conference Center.

GENEVA – The best vision for redeveloping the 1.8-acre former Mill Race Inn property would be a $35 million investment of 124 residential units of town houses and apartments, coupled with a robust public riverwalk. This opinion, offered by consultant Rick Hitchcock, came after public input on the endeavor and ongoing work with community stateholders.

About 75 people attended the third and last planning charrette June 27 at Riverside Receptions & Conference Center in Geneva to ponder the future redevelopment of the former Mill Race Inn property at 4 E. State St.

The building would be 56 feet high with eight town houses and 116 apartments above it with a public riverfront as an anchor.

“We would create a compelling public riverfront attraction on both sides of the State Street bridge,” said Hitchcock of Hitchcock Design Group.

It would take residential development to create money for the tax increment finance district that would support creating the public places, Hitchcock said.

“What we heard you all saying was, ‘We want to get to the river. We want barrier-free access to the river,’” Hitchcock said. “We want it to be a catalyst. We want to develop something that helps us reach that goal. … Not everybody is going to be happy. It’s sort of an occupational hazard.”

The riverwalk would have public amenities, such as for kayaking, bike paths, fishing and possibly a temporary ice rink, Hitchcock said.

It would be inviting and showcase an iconic view of the city, connecting the neighborhood to the river, Hitchcock said.

Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns said the City Council will be considering a resolution at the July 15 meeting that would allow the concept to proceed through the city’s regulatory process.

Property owner Shodeen Family Foundation and the city of Geneva partnered to work on the design process and invite public input.

Resident Margaret Eagan objected to the height of the building.

“I have very big concerns about that,” Eagan said.

Michael Breclaw of FitzGerald Associates Architects said the height is close to the senior housing across the intersection.

Resident Glorianne Campbell said the historic 1846 limestone structure that was part of the original Mill Race Inn would not be part of the proposal.

“Once again, the historic building is going to go down,” Campbell said.

Hitchcock said the design team thought it could be deconstructed using some of the stones to create a pavilion or gateway feature leading to the riverfront.

“It’s a trick bag,” Hitchcock said. “Even if hearts were in it, there is no one available to us to own it, operate it or manage it.”

Resident Jeannie Wogulis objected to the size of the proposed design.

“I feel like the quaintness of the town is starting to disappear,” Wogulis said. “I don’t have much trust in this whole process.”

Resident Nancy Tegge countered that when the senior housing was built, people needed time to get used to seeing it. She said people would feel the same about what is proposed for the former Mill Race Inn property.

“I think it’s great,” Tegge said. “Its different. It’s hard to embrace difference.”

Fifth Ward Alderman Craig Maladra said he also did not like the size of the proposal.

“It’s out of scale with Geneva,” Maladra said.

Hitchcock said the proposal is a blend of public and private development. The Shodeen Family Foundation owns the former Mill Race Inn property. Coupled with a concentration of activity at the river, that brings it to life, Hitchcock said.

“Good public investments can be lifeless because they are not populated or activated correctly,” Hitchcock said. “People want action. They want something to do. They want to have a drink, an ice cream cone or grab a burger.”

Fourth Ward Alderman Jeanne McGowan said this was the least favorite of four design plans.

“I am underwhelmed,” McGowan said. “I am not on board with this. … I can’t help but feel this was a sales pitch.”

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