Of Charettes and Charades: The Costs of a Failed Geneva City Government – an Open Letter to the Geneva City Council on the Mill Race Inn TIF Site

Dear Geneva City Council,

Below please see pages 10 and 11 of the attached document. On these pages, you will note that the value of the contract for the peurile planning Charrette for the Mill Race Inn Site increased by $4750 without explanation. A pittance of other people’s money to an alderman but the sum is more than a retired couple’s monthly social security check. By 08312019 the entire “opportunity analysis phase” cost of the Mill Race Inn planning Charrette (French for chariot, but nearly rhymes with charade) was paid per the contract amount. BUT the total contract amount then changed from $268650 to $273400. HOW? Who authorized it? Etc. The ~$300,000+ total was to be split with the developer, but that never happened. The taxpayers paid the full amount.

I found this $4750 discrepancy by spending 10 minutes looking over the 17-page document. That document was the result of a FOIA request to the City of Geneva that was denied initially because the request was deemed “overly burdensome.” I agreed with the city staff that the request, as they explained, was burdensome. But then so are my property taxes. I submitted a revised request that was based on the staff description that resulted in obtaining the above 17-page document.

Now, if any one of you is reading this, you have already concluded that I am nothing more than an annoying nitpicker. The devil is always in the details except when the most basic tenets of human decency are “sent to Coventry.” Examine the One Washington Place debacle in Batavia. One Washington Place Project In Batavia Terminated By Developer | Batavia, IL Patch The City of Batavia bought the property on the misguided assumption that IDOT would do what it said it would do and straighten out Route 25. Then Batavia solicited a developer (the very same one that owns the Mill Race Inn Tax Increment Financing site) on the equally misguided assumption that Batavia’s Tax Incentive Financing district created for the project with taxpayer money would be a sound investment. Batavia spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on environmental remediation of the One Washington Place site that included a leaking underground storage tank. But at least the City of Batavia’s site at the now-permanent corner of Route 25 and Route 25 is tidy and green. The foundation of the historic church is gone so it cannot look like an abandoned swimming pool that harbors bird flu and West Nile viruses. Batavia’s environmental issues are fixed. Their east side site is safe and does not offend the eye. 

Geneva’s ulcerated, necrotic, malignant wart at the southwest corner of Route 38 and 25 has metastasized to the surrounding neighborhood where five antebellum structures have been demolished within the space of a couple of years. Others are literally abandoned and destined for the same fate. The lead, mercury, arsenic, and asbestos cocktail remains uninvestigated and thus not remediated from Geneva’s industrial and automobile-related legacies on its east side. All we have from our TIF districts is blight on blight, squandered money, increased taxes, and missed opportunity.  For the public cost of the failed Mill Race Inn Charrette ($300,000+) and a high-end meat market ($750,000+), the City of Geneva could have bought the Mill Race Inn site. The City bought the Prairie Green site on the west side, so the precedent exists. The Shodeen Foundation bought the MRI site for $550,000 in 2014. It had been purchased for triple that number in 2004 by the now-bankrupt restaurant. The East State Street/Route 38 Improvement Project has been on the books since 2007. Has anyone noticed any improvement? What about the four-year-old Dunkin’ project, funded by public TIF cash and sales tax kickbacks on an uninhabitable “lust” site? That developer, with a wink and a nod from the Geneva City Council, fraudulently skipped getting an IDOT ROW permit and cannot open. In spite of its contractual obligation to Geneva taxpayers to pay its property tax, it hasn’t, and the City Council doesn’t care. 

A plan currently exists for MRI development that is known by the inner circle per the usual Geneva Way. The hearing the other night held by the Historic Preservation Commission had the usual vibe of a proforma this-is-a-done-deal. The applicant mildly complained about the width of the perimeter strip around the building, then said it all was acceptable. Subsequently when a couple of people (one was me) complained that if the remnants of the historic building should be restored it should be visible in something resembling its historic setting. So, the historically landmarked MRI parcel with its unique views of the River and Island shrank from about two acres to a postage stamp below the grade of Route 38 that no citizen could make financially viable.

How many more $’s gone down the drain would have been discovered if my request were not deemed overly burdensome? The Geneva City Council leaves everything to the staff who take direction from the mayor who appointed them all, and he controls the agenda. The Council views its Municipal Code as a book of suggestions, and it treats 65IlCS5/The Illinois Municipal Code with the same disdain. When the law reads “shall means must” the City Council and its legal staff translate the phrase to “maybe.”

One of you council members, in a comment on the wasted $300K, said he “would do it again.” I suppose his thinking was that the virtue in hitting yourself repeatedly in the head with a hammer is that it feels so good when you finally stop. You dug this hole but more digging is not the solution.

Sincerely,

Rod Nelson

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