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Jeff Ward Picks His Geneva Economic Development Dream Team

Kiss the Sky is moving?! That makes three of the four corners of Third Street up for grabs. TO change that, we need swift, direct action. So, I've come up with an economic development dream team!

To somewhat build upon , in response to the Sho-Deen Inc. and Geneva city administrators' tiff over a proposed multi-unit housing development at Second and South streets, 2nd Ward Alderman Sam Hill said, “… we need to get this master plan moving,”

Of course, he was referring to the Downtown Master Plan and recognized that, though downtown Geneva businesses would most certainly benefit from nearby condos and apartments, current ordinances and zoning make it very difficult to bring those projects to fruition.

Though I couldn’t possibly agree any more with the good alderman’s sentiments, I want to take it a bit further because that master plan covers so much more than just one potential condo development. Up to this point, we’ve only discussed two-thirds of the triumvirate that make for a healthy downtown Geneva, and it’s time to tackle the third.

The first group is the , but in a way, that’s the least important of our three. While a proactive and prescient group of business leaders can be an amazing asset, in the end, the chamber doesn’t necessarily sound the downtown's death knell or its cavalry charge.

I’m convinced we’ll see no significant change as long a Jean Gaines is in charge.

The second part of this trio are the merchants themselves who, instead of hanging separately, as they insist upon doing, should be hanging together. When you consider all the bickering over and s, I’m not holding out too much hope there, either.

Though I constantly remind readers that you can’t save someone from themselves, those two shortcomings can be overcome if the municipality itself steps in and fills that vacuum. A strong city-based leader or leadership group can actually rally those flagging forces into holding up their sides of this three-legged stool.

When you consider the ailments currently afflicting our downtown, alderman Hill suddenly becomes the master of understatement, because I’ve come to the conclusion that downtown Geneva’s best and last hope lies in some hyperactive municipal leadership.

And the reason Alderman Hill’s opportune statement struck such a chord with me is it looks like we’re about to lose our third Third and State Street business. Within the next few days, you will be seeing a prominent “Storefront Available” sign on ’s façade.

Now. before I get hammered for dissing another downtown landlord, this potential move has nothing to with the Erday brothers who own that building. In fact, KTS owner Steve Warrenfeltz has frequently repeated, “The Erdays are great! I couldn’t have asked for better landlords.”

This one boils down to “economics,” as Steve put it, and the desire to get back to hosting live music, which wouldn’t work in their current space.

Though changing locations from State and Third wouldn’t work for a business depending primarily on foot traffic, it will for a store that’s become a destination business. Given the recent ascent of vinyl, folks are coming from all over the western suburbs to purchase their beloved LPs at KTS.

And that’s what’s going to make this loss so painful to Geneva. When I head down to pick up a Black Keys LP, I’ll stop in to , and maybe even because I‘m already there. I understand the loss of one store won’t mean that much in the final tally, but KTS does bring in a group of people that might not otherwise come to Geneva.

Please tell me you’re not thinking, “Phew! At least those foot-traffic-dependent business will always be here!” Don’t be so sure. Were I among the powers that be in St. Charles, the first thing I’d do to fill all those new connected downtown storefronts is target my recruitment efforts at my neighbor to the south with all the quaint shops.

So how do we stave off this kind of competition? How do we lure new business into downtown Geneva? And most of all, how do we keep the businesses we already have?

We need a team of crack in-house staff who won’t take no for an answer. I’m talking about folks who are always ahead of the curve. We need quick thinkers who won’t fall prey to the plague of endless meetings, memos, long-range plans that are obsolete the minute they come off the printer, and simply paying lip service—that’s just more municipal foot dragging.

I don’t want Geneva to wait until businesses come to them, I want someone out pounding the pavement and visiting those Third Street stores at least six times a year. Don’t even think about e-mails.

I understand we already have Economic Development Director Ellen Da Vita, and Business Specialist Paul Evans, but either they’re stretched too thin or they need to greatly increase their caffeine intake. We shouldn’t forget the fine volunteers who serve on the Economic Development Commission, either, but they only meet four times a year.

Considering the return, these proposed new and well-paid business acquisition/retention specialists would be the kind of investment that the taxpayers should heartily embrace.

If you’ll briefly indulge me in some wishful thinking, the two people I’d love to see tackle this difficult task head on would be Kevin Burns (he’d have to resign as mayor) and entrepreneur extraordinaire, Joe Stanton.

Talk about an economic development dream team! It would be something seeing those two working together.

Let me be perfectly clear that Kiss The Sky leaving Geneva isn’t etched in stone. You never know what might the future might bring, they could even end up on the same spot. By the same token, the possibility of KTS leaving Geneva isn’t a failure on anyone’s part. It’s just the current nature of the beast.

But because I shudder at the prospect of three empty Third and State street storefronts, I want to see Geneva attack that beast head on.

Let’s get started!

ken loebel January 11, 2012 at 02:12 PM
As long as we have a USTreasury that colludes with money center banks, a federal reserve that manipulates the currency and creates recessions through ill advised and incompetent decision making, and a government run by investment banks that ran their own firms into the ground, and only exist due to trillions of tax payer bailouts...as long as we have a legislature that protects illegals, bails out corrupt, and confiscates from tax payers- I don't see the corner if 3rd street changinf... it represents a local view of how corruption and power abused have impaced America...perhaps the 3rd street graveyard will open up the passion of voters for dramatic departures if the inept professional politicians.
Mike January 11, 2012 at 04:27 PM
Lets not forget the COST to join the Chamber and the COST they charge for entrance to events being held in Geneva; e.g., SWEDISH DAYS. Prices keep going up each year regardless of the economy. Where does their $$$ go? Wages/printing/WHERE? Just what the answer is could be anyone's guess but Mr. Ward, you are right on with your assessment that the BUSINESS OWNERS need to HANG TOGETHER and propose plans to the development guru's. Great continuation on the Original Shojedeen (sp) development article. Kudo's.
Terry Flanagan January 11, 2012 at 05:59 PM
Let's not underestimate the value of having proactive landlords. When Mike Simon needed to fill some vacant space he went courting a resale shop in St. Charles that was outgrowing its space. He then worked with city staff to get the zoning tweaked to make it happen. An economic development team needs to operate in the same fashion, even if it means poaching a few businesses from time to time. They need to be aware of what the market wants and seek to get the businesses that meet those demands to relocate to Geneva. Years ago when we suggested that Geneva try to get a Portillo's on Randall, a staffer asked what a Portillo's was. Now Batavia and St. Charles both have one. We need to know the market. But just knowing the market isn't going to solve all of our problems. We also need to make sure that Geneva provides an environment that is attractive to business or we could wind up as dreary as Wayne. We're also pretty much at the limits of our growth except for possible infill high-density residential development. Retail businesses look at population as one factor in deciding where to locate. But it's not the only factor. The Chamber has worked hard to market Geneva as a destination, a place with unique shops and restaurants on the picturesque Fox River, using our natural assets to help promote the town. And that's important too.
Rich Hayhurst January 11, 2012 at 07:39 PM
Landlords and taxing bodies may be partially responsible for these vacancies. Between their escalating property tax bills (thanks to local unions and ignorant boards) and landlords reluctance to reduce rents and personal income, they are choosing to offer space at higher than the market value. When teachers, administrators, and public servants get pay raises against the grain of the private sector pay reductions, merchants get tax increases, forcing out marginal operations and creating blight.

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