Dashed Mill Race Inn development plans leave future of Geneva site in question

For four years, the former Mill Race Inn site in Geneva has sat empty except for the remnants of a historic stone structure protected by a tarp.

It’ll stay that way — at least for now — after the city council rejected the latest development proposal for the prime parcel of land on the Fox River at Geneva’s eastern gateway.



At a meeting Monday, Geneva’s 10 aldermen voted unanimously to reject the proposal presented by the Shodeen Family Foundation, signaling the end of a $38 million project introduced nearly 18 months ago.

The proposed project called for 116 rental apartments, eight townhouses, 2,000 square feet of commercial space, 155 covered parking spaces, deconstruction and reinterpretation of the original historic structure to adhere to its landmark status, and riverfront amenities.

The decision will cost the city $273,000 — to come from tax increment financing funds — to cover all the expenses to this point, including Shodeen’s.

That’s because a 2019 agreement between Geneva and Shodeen states the two entities would split the amount unless the city decided not to proceed. By not going forward, the city is required to reimburse Shodeen for its half of the expenses.



What happens next with the site is unknown.

“I’m certain that I can speak for everybody involved that there will be deep breaths and moments to kind of regroup,” Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns said on Tuesday. “We will move forward and await to hear what plans the foundation has for that land.”

Shodeen purchased the 1.4-acre former Mill Race Inn site at 4 E. State St. for $550,000 in 2014 and was under contract to buy the adjacent property at 12 E. State St. But the site’s history dates back to the 1800s.

An original blacksmith’s structure, built in 1846, opened as a tearoom in 1933. Through the years, the Mill Race Inn was developed around the original structure before the restaurant closed in 2011. The Mill Race Inn was demolished in 2016, leaving the historic structure alone on the site.

Geneva’s aldermen, who last year voted 6-4 to go ahead with a three-day planning session known as a charrette, offered different reasons to oppose moving forward with the project. The height of the residential buildings blocking views, the anticipated traffic congestion and the perceived lack of changes based on charrette suggestions were a few of the concerns.



More than anything, though, opposition from the community stood as the main stumbling block to granting approval for the next step.

Residents expressed many concerns during the online meeting Monday, including questions about flooding in the area and a belief that the facade didn’t fit in with Geneva’s historical identity. Others worried about the development’s negative impact on the environment.

“We’ve all seen in the emails that were sent from residents who were very adamantly asking us, ‘Please don’t approve this,'” Fourth Ward Alderman Jeanne McGowan said at Monday’s meeting. “I have to represent those residents’ wishes and my own personal wishes. I didn’t receive a single email from anyone who said, ‘I love this project. Please vote yes.'”

Fifth Ward Alderman Craig Maladra engaged in a back-and-forth with Shodeen President David Patzelt about potential flexibility with the development plans. Patzelt, however, felt his group had gone above and beyond in responding to concerns and requests presented during the charrette.

“It’s a little unfortunate that the council members have not seen the numerous changes and the extensive work that the entire design team and charrette team, including the staff, has put into this plan,” Patzelt said.

“Unfortunately you can’t make everybody happy, and I don’t know that we’re going to be able to make everybody happy in this process.”

Given the high-profile nature of the location — on the eastern bank of the Fox River — there’s consensus about one aspect of the site’s future.

They want to get this right.

“We had an 18-month courtship and we chose not to get married under these circumstances,” Burns said. “I’m certainly hoping we can rekindle the relationship at some point.”


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