Pure Oil Stands; So Now What?

What happens next?

Regular Patch readers will have noticed that there seem to be a lot of articles lately about the state of the city of Geneva. With vacancies dotting the downtown, it certainly appears that Geneva itself is at a crossroads. Do we continue to hold dear what we have valued in the past, or do we change with the times? 

Last night, the City Council heard an appeal from property owner and developer Joe Stanton. He appealed the decision to deny demolition of the Pure Oil building at 502 W. State. Stanton had previously gone before the Geneva Historic Preservation Commission and the Committee of the Whole. While the debate was long and often contentious, the council voted that the city will continue to value its historic character for the benefit of current and future citizens. The appeal was denied. 

It won't be a surprise to anyone who attended what my personal feelings are. I firmly believe that preservation of the Pure Oil building is not only beneficial in the long term for Geneva, but also for the country as a whole. Our heritage as embodied by the Lincoln Highway and its buildings is vanishing. Winston Churchill said, "We shape our buildings; thereafter, our buildings shape us." We are shaped by our sense of place and our roots in that place. Geneva has a great sense of place and is a great place to be rooted in for that reason. 

But. It came up in the meeting, and on the Patch, and was on my mind as I drove home last night. Now what? Indeed, now what, Geneva? Never one to back away from a question, I have some suggestions. 

1. Get involved. While sometimes it may not seem like one lone person can make a difference, it does. Attend some meetings. See how your town runs. Have a conversation with your representatives. Write a letter, send an email, sign a petition. If you have an opinion, share it. Let your voice be heard.

2. Get more involved. Over the course of the last few weeks, I have heard the same idea repeated ad infinitum. We all came out to save the building, and now we're going to fade back into the woodwork and let Mr. Stanton and the city fix the problem of what to do with the building. Don't be that guy. We've only solved one problem—the building won't be demolished. Right now, at least. Don't know where to begin? May I suggest the Preservation Partners of the Fox Valley? They're from right here in St. Charles, and unless I miss my mark, they will be speaking to Mr. Stanton as this all goes forward to figure out what to do now.

3. Shop local. Nothing speaks to commitment like putting your money where your mouth is. In this particular case, it's spring. Why not go ahead and buy your plants from instead of the big box on Randall? Sure, it may cost you a little more, but you may solve two problems with one stone. One, you'd be supporting a business that is in Geneva, run by Genevans. Two, the MacLeans are committed to organic and natural practices. They even sell seeds from a particular favorite of mine, the Seed Savers Exchange. Based out of Decorah, IA, their mission to save seeds and varieties that might otherwise vanish forever dovetails nicely with the Pure Gardener's organic, local and footprint reducing feel. 

I certainly don't pretend to have all the answers, but as the 21st century rolls on, we must make preserving what makes Geneva great part of the conversation, or face the possibility that we, and Geneva, will be left behind. 

So now I put it to you, Patch readers. Now what?

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Noel G. Rooks April 03, 2012 at 11:28 PM
Thanks! I'd be interested in being a part of or publicizing any group that's willing to take it on. I guess my question is, based on what has been revealed at the meeting, why Mr. Stanton has decided that the current tenant isn't a paying proposition? From what I could gather, the current usage would only need a few things - I thought I had heard something about a roof repair being necessary. That said, what other issues are at hand that make the current situation non viable? I'd love to see the PG stay right where it is. That said, if that isn't an option, I'd be happy to be a part of the conversation to figure out what's next.
Terry Flanagan April 04, 2012 at 01:01 AM
I think that at some point we're going to need a fund that can be used to help finance rehabilitation of historic properties for commercial purposes. The fund could lend money at zero or close to zero interest rates to be paid back out of rental income, profits, etc. Several individuals have offered to contribute to this fund. We would need someone to manage it, ideally the city. It might be possible to contribute to the fund via the city utility bill much like CUB used to do. We might also get contributions through credit card processing machines much like the pet stores use to get donations for animal shelters. We would have to see if the local merchants could program such a feature on their machines and then encourage people to shop Geneva and contribute to the fund at participating merchants, Contributions should be considered charitable donations for tax purposes and we could even expand the scope of the fund to also help cultural arts and beautification. The city utility bills could hopefully provide an opt-in for automatic contributions when paying by credit card assuming the new software allows that.
Bob McQuillan April 04, 2012 at 02:32 AM
All great ideas but there is another major problem that the residents of Geneva have ignored for the last three years. How is the community going to repay the debt that has been amassed by building new school building after new school building? About 80 residents were up in arms last night about a building that is privately owned. Why aren't those same people at Geneva School Board meetings demanding a repayment plan that won't force people out of their houses? The board at it's recent retreat meeting claimed that the repayment total of $325 million is misleading. We ONLY owe $159 million in debt. Yea, but we need to repay a total of well over $300 million to cover principal & interest. How can they forget a little issue like the interest attached to every bond? Financial reports show that yearly repayments will increase from 13 to 25 million dollars within four short years. Ten million per year, where will it come from? Why the uproar over a privately owed building when very homeowners property tax will increase @ $1,000 per year in the next 4 years? Just for debt repayment, nothing else. Geneva is a great place to live but how long can iresidents be expected to pay increases in taxes, utility bills and now contribute to a restoration fund for privately owned historic buildings? When do we hit the point of no return? Take a break from a City Council meeting and attend the next school board meeting on April 9th at 7:00 pm at the "old" Coultrap Elementary school.
marsha engle April 04, 2012 at 12:37 PM
It would seem to me that the Pure Oil building is a candidate for a grant from national preservation funds. This is something that needs to be investigated. Liz Safanda and Preservation Partners could give us some guidance. She is a master at this and has been successful in the past.
ann holt-harris April 04, 2012 at 01:38 PM
The University of Pennsylvania recently issued a 100 year bond at an interest rate of 4.675%. We should think about what agency, or not-for-profit could issue such a bond to raise money for the purpose of preservation of historic buildings rather than having the city buy the building or exchanging one building for another and so on. If anyone knows someone at Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley who underwrites such issues and knows more about it than I do, you should invite them to your next committee meeting. Granted, The U of Penn has a big endowment so they can get a favorable rating on their bond issue but I think it is an avenue that could be explored. I think many citizens would be up to buying some of these bonds.


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