Joe! I’m trying! I’m really trying! Despite the obvious and ongoing onslaught of evidence supporting my dark downtown Geneva prognosis, I’m doing my darnedest to cling to the precipice of your far-more-idealistic vision of our business district’s future.
I was barely holding on by one trembling hand when those four alderman called a March 14 special City Council meeting at the to give the downtown merchants an audience. That proactive measure gave me just enough hope to start climbing back up the cliff.
But then the Geneva Economic Development Commission submitted their report outlining what they believed to be the downtown’s most pressing needs, and I’m back to barely hanging on by the fingernails of my tired left hand.
And here’s their highly anticipated top five list:
- Attention to landscape aesthetics
- Additional parking
- Improved pedestrian circulation and sight lines
- Upgrade of utilities, fire and life safety building improvements
- Preservation of historic buildings
Before we continue, for the record, let me state that I and all Genevans are grateful for the time, energy and expertise so freely given by the fine folks serving on that commission.
And I have to say our esteemed group of local businessmen and women pretty much nailed the three most serious challenges to hit downtown Geneva since the Internet. To paraphrase:
- Increased competition
- Reduced customer base due to the relocation of Kane County courts/government offices, hospital and clinic facilities and their clientele.
- Evolution into a tourism destination where half of the businesses aren’t open later than 6 p.m. contributing to the situation where the district is not collectively generating sufficient revenues.
Considering they so reasonably diagnosed the disease, I’m more than stunned by their prescription for a cure. They’re certainly correct about north end parking, but the remaining items on their list wouldn’t even crack my top 10.
Aesthetics and sight lines? While those are important features of any vibrant downtown, that’s the one thing Geneva’s already got going on. We’re head and shoulders above any downtown I’ve seen outside of Naperville. Most municipalities would give their collective right arm to have the equivalent of our Third Street.
Upgrading utilities, addressing safety issues, and preserving historic buildings are worthwhile endeavors, but they’re better handled by the City Council because they do absolutely nothing to bring businesses and shoppers to downtown Geneva.
Aren’t code enforcers supposed to take care of those things?
For the life of me, I can’t figure out why “encouraging store owners to maintain evening hours” wasn’t at the top of that list. It would appear to me that the commissioners have fallen into the trap of telling the merchants what they want to hear and not what they need to hear.
Per the city of Geneva’s own website, “(Economic Development) Commissioners must be willing to assist in identifying community issues and vision, and assist in economic development activities, such as business retention and recruitment.”
And it’s gonna take more that sightlines and aesthetics to retain and recruit new businesses, which is exactly where this group should be putting most, if not all, of their boundless energy. Better folks than I have said it before: We need to give shoppers a real reason to come to downtown Geneva—a grocery store, for example—not a prettier postcard.
We need to attract exciting enterprises like an Apple Store, a Gap, or a Chicos—the kind of businesses that will attract a younger crowd. Don’t get me wrong, I love my independent stores, but the last thing downtown Geneva needs is another overpriced furniture shop.
I realize this kind of thinking might mean the end of some enterprises, but sometimes you have to prune the tree to make it healthier.
To make matters worse, the commission then took a nose dive off that same cliff by proposing a maximum additional 1 percent downtown sales tax to pay for those inconsequential improvements.
“The commission believes that additional sales tax can be imposed without producing a counterproductive competitive environment and will not affect the long term viability of the downtown,” the report stated.
No, it can’t!
Don’t get me wrong, I love the thought of people paying their own way, but do we really want to give folks another reason to turn to the Commons? When you consider the looming prospect of three empty Third Street and State Street stores, imposing a downtown surtax would be the height of lunacy.
So, Joe! The only thing preventing me from letting go and taking that precipitous plunge is your downtown vision and the prospect of something positive coming out of that March 16 special council meeting.
Because if that five-point list is the best Geneva can do, not even you can save us from ourselves.