Geneva to chip in for designing new use for Mill Race Inn site
Geneva and the owner of the former Mill Race Inn site will split the cost of hiring designers to lead a community effort to figure out what to do with the parcel.
The city council voted 8-1 Monday to approve a contract with the owner, Shodeen Family Foundation, and Hitchcock Design Group at a cost of $273,400. The city will pay $136,700.
Besides leading a four-day planning process (a "charrette") to come up with a plan, the money will pay for work Hitchcock does as that plan is reviewed for approval by city commissions and the council.
Most of the Mill Race Inn restaurant complex was razed in 2016. A small stone building dating to the 1840s remains, and has been designated as a city landmark. The redevelopment agreement also covers an adjacent commercial parcel at State and Bennett streets. Shodeen has a contract to buy that.
The city considers the area a gateway to downtown and previously said it believes it is suited for a mix of housing, hotels, stores and restaurants.
During the charrette, Hitchcock will first meet privately with 24 elected officials, business leaders, real estate brokers, financiers and community leaders.
The company also will conduct two workshops open to the public. Experts will provide information and advice, including the economic feasibility of ideas. A third public meeting would reveal the suggested plan.
The idea is to garner community support before officially submitting a development request to the city.
Hitchcock plans to complete the charrette before the end of June, and present a plan for city approval in the fall.
"If Shodeen, who is very successful and has had decades of experience in this area, can't come up with a home-run idea, what if the public can't either? What if we don't get any great ideas from the charrette?" Alderman Becky Hruby asked Monday.
"We will put together ideas that we think make sense for both parties," said Rich Hitchcock, senior principal for Hitchcock Design.
The agreement calls for Geneva to pay for the full Hitchcock bill if the city does not approve the plan that comes out of the workshop, or does not approve financial aid that workshop participants deem necessary to build.
The site is in a tax-increment financing district, but that district does not have any money in its fund. The city will take money from another TIF's fund to pay Hitchcock.
If the city approves a plan and financial aid, but Shodeen doesn't start construction within 18 months, Shodeen would have to pay the whole Hitchcock bill.
City officials, including Alderman Mike Bruno, stressed the agreement does not call for retaining the landmarked building. The city landmarked the building over the owner's objection in 2018.
Landmark proponent Colin Campbell acknowledged that at Monday's meeting.
"It was never our intention that it could never be torn down. We just wanted time to try and find alternatives for it. And the alternative may be that it isn't viable," Campbell said.
Alderman Jim Radecki voted "no." He did so, he said, to remain consistent with his position that the city should not have landmarked the remaining building without the owners' approval.