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Jeff Ward: Despite Some Merchants' Protest, Bike Race Likely to Move Through Third Street

Some of the tactics used to try and scuttle the annual bike race, the City Council COW made the right call.

Please allow me to preface this piece by stipulating that members of the City Council Committee of the Whole did the right thing when they voted to bring the July 8 bike race back to Third Street on a Sunday. The citizens love it, it puts thousands of new eyes into our unique downtown businesses, and hosting an event with international Olympic-caliber athletes certainly doesn’t hurt our image.

Unless something sinister happens, that 8-to-1 margin will most likely hold up when the full council makes its final decision tonight.

Ah! But as always seems to be the case with Geneva, this no-brainer event couldn’t move forward without the appropriate dose of drama. I suppose Ian Anderson was right when he reminded us that “nothing is easy.”

Yes! In a perfect demonstration of just how the gotcha game is played, three disgruntled merchants and one shortsighted alderman turned what should’ve been a 15-minute love fest into a two-hour ordeal.

What I found particularly disappointing is that one of those merchants was Little Traveler owner Mike Simon, a downtown landlord I’ve been lauding of late. Rather than debate the race on its merits, or the lack thereof, he unleashed a vitriolic attack that literally made me cringe.

Simon started by accusing Andy Garrison and Breakaway Promotions of blatantly lying on the Geneva merchant survey they were required to conduct. Simon somehow got marked down as a “no opinion” when it would be putting it mildly to to say he’s dead-set against the race.

Then he did his best to rile up the aldermen by claiming Breakaway blatantly challenged the council’s authority by listing the event as a done deal on their website. Why, these cads even had the temerity to try and sell advertising to some of these vehemently opposed downtown businesses!

Even though St. Mark’s rector Mark Tusken was there, Simon spoke for him, he spoke on behalf of a plethora of phantom outraged merchants, and generally made it sound like this race would be much worse than Sherman's march to the sea.

After him, Serenity Jewelry owner Jamie Bellandi made it sound even worse. She described how, the last time the race ran down Third Street, she only sold one bracelet to the mother of a racer who said if her son knew she was shopping at her store he’d basically beat her with a broken bike chain.

Ms. Bellandi also inferred that she was misrepresented by the organizers until it was pointed out that she was actually listed as “opposed.”

Next up was Jane Briner, who said she was representing the 24 merchants at the Shops At 127, proceeded to declare the race was worthless, poorly attended, the organizers were nefarious, and closing Third Street for just one Sunday would spell downtown Geneva’s doom.

When Rob Kelley, a friend, local businessman and accomplished racer, spoke in support of the event, Bellandi and Griner proceeded to heckle him like a really unfunny version of the Muppet Show’s Stadler and Waldorf.

Kelley made the mistake of engaging them, which probably didn't make things any better. That said, Rob did get Mike Simon to admit The Littler Traveler wouldn’t even be open that Sunday. Facts will trump the gotcha game every time.

Not to pick on Alderman Craig Maladra too much, but the councilman who made a point of admonishing the gallery during the Pure Oil building debate didn’t feel the need to intervene when two of our esteemed merchants exhibited the same type of behavior.

Even COW meeting chairman Ralph Dantino seemed to buy into this verbal assault until Breakaway Promotions spokesperson Andy Garrison, who is adept at dealing with cantankerous City Council members, completely blew the naysayers’ arguments away.

He explained that they could not associate the word “tentative” with the race or no one would show up. As an inveterate 5K-er, I can personally tell you that if a race is listed as tentative, I’ll simply move on to one that isn’t.

Garrison added that they did their best with the city’s late survey request, coming down from Wisconsin twice before they resorted to contacting the difficult-to-reach business owners by phone. He eloquently described how, after attending the first race, his own mother has become a Geneva shopaholic.

He explained they went back to Sunday because most merchants preferred it to Saturday. The reason for returning to Third Street was that all successful bike races run straight through the main business district because that kind of buzz was essential for the race’s survival.

As Alderman Don Cummings so aptly noted, “Presentation matters. There’s a reason the Tour de France finishes on the Champs Elysee.”

Garrison concluded that it’s in the promoter’s best interest to ensure the race is a success for all of Geneva. If Geneva doesn’t have a good day, he knows they won’t be back. He offered to start the race later to help St. Mark's and provide a free race announcement on behalf of any business affected by the Third Street closure.

Though Simon, Bellandi and Griner did Geneva a disservice by resorting to base tactics, it was alderman Sam Hill who really got my goat.

He was belligerent, discourteous and outright dismissive of the race organizers, who’ve bent over backward to make this event work—for everyone. If I had to face down that kind of vitriol from a public official, I’d have taken my business elsewhere.

I was happy to see that, when Hill made a motion to move the race back to Fourth Street, the motion simply died for lack of a second.

So, while some merchants insist on doing their best to kill our downtown by inches, we really have to give the City Council credit for seeing both the forest and the trees.

ann holt-harris June 04, 2012 at 12:57 PM
just curious about how you now say the downtown is unique when you always say it is dead? As to a bike race on 3d street - it is a great time to shop if you can walk to 3d street because there isn't anyone else in the shops. One more question, Jeff, what exactly does a bike race on 3d street say about our 'image?"
Phil June 04, 2012 at 12:58 PM
Boy, talk about short-sighted. A merchant only sells one bracelet on race-day and deems the event unsuccessful? What about all the people who get their first taste of Geneva on race-day and come back for the Christmas Walk or on some random weekend in the fall and shop? (Jethro Tull FTW)
Colin C. June 04, 2012 at 01:05 PM
Mr. Simon and other merchants who oppose this event are right in saying that two years ago, when it was held on Third St. there were not many shoppers downtown, nor were there many spectators. But that was the first year for the race and the publicity was poor. An event like this needs several years to get to be known and to build an audience. Still, I was on Third St. for the whole event that year and heard at least ten or twelve comments, mostly from racers families I think, that they loved the town and intended to return to shop and dine. I wonder how many attendees of the Art Fair or the Concours actually shop the Third St. stores on those weekends. But no one denies that those events bring a lot of people from all over to downtown and that the exposure must be good in the long run for the merchants and restaurants. Give the bike race a chance to build its audience. Give it a five year "lease", go heavy on publicity, and then take stock. I believe that we will find that downtown Geneva does benefit in the long run.
Jeff Ward June 04, 2012 at 01:13 PM
Ann, Being unique and still managing to fade away are not mutually exclusive. If being unique was enough to survive, then I'd be a fricken' millionaire. As far as our image goes, we're talking world class athletes coming to Geneva to compete in the pro race. How often does that happen? There's not bike race in St. Charles, Batavia, West Chicago etc..., but there is one here. Jeff
Jeff Ward June 04, 2012 at 01:14 PM
Phil, Not only did you take the words right out of my mouth (what song is that from?), but you get 30 bonus points for getting Jethro Tull. The sad thing is, I'm not sure what you can do with all those bonus points. Jeff
John R June 04, 2012 at 01:59 PM
My wife just put it in the calendar. We really enjoyed the event last year. We will watch a little bit of the race, walk three street, poke around the shops and then have lunch. Probably eat at chianti's or michaelangelo's. Colin want to join us?
Patrick Neary June 04, 2012 at 02:34 PM
You are missing some very critical points in the debate - 1. Merchants were not informed about the possibility of the event until recently (less than 6 weeks before the event). This "last minute" planning has impacted the event every year. Decisions need to be taken 3-4 months ahead of time to ensure adequate promotion and commercial success. 2. Don't fall into the negative by associating Mike Simon and Sam Hill with playing some tactical games - they are not. Mike is on the Chamber Board and Sam represents the downtown business community in his ward. They are in tune with the sentiments of the vast majority of the merchants (and have the right to express sentiment and vote for their constituencies). 3. Stop the hyperbole - "the citizens love it, it puts thousands of new eyes into our unique downtown businesses". I not only watched the first two races, but walked the entire race course to find only a very few people in the streets and only very limited non-racer attendance. This is a work in progress. 4. Impact of Closing 3rd Street - The impact of closing 3rd street at any time has unique and differing consequences on each merchant or restaurant. This should not be taken lightly as these businesses work very hard every day to survive. They are interested in the medium/long-term impact of such events, but have to deal with the realities of surviving the near term.
Jeff Ward June 04, 2012 at 02:47 PM
Patrick, 1. This will be the third bike race right around the very same weekend. The merchants were contacted by the organizers for the survey. There are none so blind as those who won't see. 2. Sam Hill, and every other alderman, should treat every citizen that comes before them with the respect they deserve. No exceptions, and if he can't do that then he should step down. If anything, Mike Simon's completely over-the-top response (talk about hyperbole) to the organizers trying to do exactly what they city asked them, assured that 8 to 1 vote. No one elected Mike Simon to anything. Even if the results of the survey were skewed by 20 percent, the majority of the merchants understand this race benefits them in the long run and support it. 3. During the pro portion of the previous race we were sitting at the corner of 7th and South. It was packed. There were folks lining 7th street in chairs. The restaurants on Third Street were packed, Grahams was bursting at the seams, and any venue with outdoor seating did really well. Again, some folks see only what they want to see. 4. I agree. The city council did just that, represented all the people and businesses in Geneva and voted 8 to 1 to proceed. If you are so adamantly opposed to it, perhaps you too could've shown up a city hall last Monday. Jeff
Colin C. June 04, 2012 at 02:50 PM
Would love to. C
Koshka June 04, 2012 at 03:04 PM
Downtown is discussed as if it is a privately held mall property managed for the sole benefit of is shareholders and leaders. It is rather a public space. The merchants have a voice but one concludes it is the only voice from this debate. Personally I get out of town on Swedish Days and the Wine Thingy I go downtown and the cemetery for Memorial Day and Jully 4th - public days in public space. I also go to the Art Fair and the car show. I went to the race when it was on 3rd. I skipped it when it wasn't. I thought it was fun and under attended by residents. This is a great event for a geat bicycling community. It needs the support and PROMOTION of the Chamber and City's marketing team. Stop treating it like the invasion of the aliens.
Lance Mitchell June 04, 2012 at 03:08 PM
So we are closing a street that was made for cars in order to have a bike race, does that mean we will be able to drive our cars down the bike path by the river?
Koshka June 04, 2012 at 03:39 PM
Ever notice the other events that close The Street Made For Cars?
Storm Nielsen June 04, 2012 at 05:43 PM
Although it is not my intent to kill the messenger, the fact that you could not get the name of Jane Briner (not Griner) correct at the meeting, nor even endeavor to learn it later before writing this column seems to me to be poor journalistic writing. Jane and Bill Briner have been at the same location for over 30 years. They owned the Persimmon Tree. As the economic times have changed, their shop has evolved into a number of small, vendor operated shops, taking care to operate as a department store rather than an antique mall operation.The concept seems to work well. It seems a real shame that someone so very interested in the downtown businesses would be ignorant of that small fact. I would think that Ms Briner would have some sense of what works and what does not as far as bringing in shoppers. Lastly, keeping in mind that you could not even be bothered to learn the correct name of Ms Briner leaves one to be suspect of your reporting as a whole with regard to the meeting that occurred regarding the bike race and its impact upon the merchants.
Rick Nagel (Editor) June 04, 2012 at 06:18 PM
I corrected the spelling. Thank you, Storm! Just as an FYI, Jeff watched the meeting on Channel 10 and wrote the column on Sunday, when it wasn't possible to reach anyone at City Hall to check the name spelling.
Jeff Ward June 04, 2012 at 06:20 PM
Storm I went over the recording of that council meeting at least 20 times to try and get her name right. She was facing away from the camera and microphone when she announced it. Then I spent another 20 minutes trying to look it up on the Net to no avail because I could not get close enough to her name to get a match. Then, I called Rick Nagel and specifically explained that, for the above reasons, I wasn't sure if I had that name right, but on a Sunday, my avenues to further check it out were severely limited. I asked him if he had any resources that might be able to clear it up and he said he'd check it out. As if getting a name slightly wrong, despite my best efforts, in any way dilutes what I was trying to say. Nice try, though! Jeff
Patrick Neary June 04, 2012 at 06:27 PM
Jeff, You really are very presumptious - did I say I was adamantly or even modestly opposed to the race? In fact, I was a financial supporter in year 1. You do irk me with your insults (apparently everyone is blind but you ) and lack of interest in getting an understanding of the issues and then reasonable resolution of differences.
Jeff Ward June 04, 2012 at 06:37 PM
Patrick, I apologize if I got that wrong, by I just re-read your original post twice, and I still read it as being dead set against. Incorrect? Maybe! Presumptuous? Not really! And there was no insult implied, offered or otherwise. Too many downtown merchants are blind to what's happening. That's a statement of fact, not a judgment. It's ironic that you're attacking me for exactly what Simon, Bellandi, and Briner did to the bike race organizers. They wanted to kill the race without discussion. And if I'm guilty of the same thing, then they made me look like a rank amateur. Jeff
Ignatius Reilly June 04, 2012 at 08:30 PM
Is the race like the one in that movie Breaking Away, love that movie.
Rich Walker June 04, 2012 at 09:26 PM
This is typical Ward garbage: insult everyone who disagrees with him, contradict his previous statements about downtown Geneva, and assume he knows more about another person's business than they do. Bike races are great events...but they do little to draw an additional spending crowd to the town itself. Many spectators are accidental....the race just happened to be running that day. Bikers, their crews, friends and families tend to stick to the business of the race, and don't hang around the town spending money before or after the race. I love watching good riders compete, but the city and the race boosters are kidding themselves if they think a race will have a positive economic impact. Which raises the question...what does the city think this will do for Geneva? Kissing up to Jeff Ward doesn't seem enough of a reason.
Colin C. June 04, 2012 at 09:49 PM
Yes, it's like the movie only better. The racers come from all over the world and it's run on the streets, not a track. It's a little bit of France or Italy right here in Geneva.
Kevin Holzhauer June 04, 2012 at 10:30 PM
I hope anyone who appreciates what a unique and exceptional downtown we have in Geneva will support this race. Our area is filled with bike shops and is very bike-friendly, this race is an event that will only help our town's reputation in that regard. People who participate in cycling are frequently affluent and willing to spend money, it's surprising to see that local merchants would fight exposure to a group like that.
J. R. Wright June 05, 2012 at 12:12 AM
Just to clarify the earlier comment made by Jeff there are races being held in neighboring communities: http://stcharles-il.patch.com/articles/bike-race-coming-to-st-charles-in-july I’m not for or against the race but I find it very interesting that there is not even one comment on the race for or against in that article. It's kinda discouraging all the bickering that seems to go with the patch as of late.
Bob June 05, 2012 at 02:31 AM
Any merchant that can't see the value in this event deserves to go out of business. Weed out the ignorant and short-sighted, a little Darwin-esque thinning of the herd. In addition, Mike Simon has no more say about closing Third St than I do, or any other resident who pays to maintain the public roads.
Storm Nielsen June 05, 2012 at 04:56 AM
A few years ago, my wife and i went to see Mandy Patimkin's performance at the Chicago Theatre. The televised version would not have shown how Mandy made a complete @ss of himself prior to the performance when he shouted foul insults at the theatre's staff. This happened in front of the entire audience. My wife and i came away with a completely different opinion of Mr Patimkin. He may well be a fine actor and singer, but he is a complete, self righteous jerk. I do not care to see any performance by him ever again. I offer this as how an opinion is formed when seeing something on television as compared to actually being there. Jeff, you weren't even there. Your opinion I suspect, and therefore your story you wrote is more based upon your own biased feelings rather than a reporter's impartial judgement. You had formed an opinion and the TV show you watched didn't change it. So if we want to talk about dilution, yours is completely watered down. Geez, you watched a TV show and reported on it. What's next Seinfeld?
Storm Nielsen June 05, 2012 at 02:14 PM
I'm drawing 2 conclusions from the St Charles version: #1 Look at the map - it's being held where it does not impact as many businesses and neighborhoods as Geneva's. #2 It has always been my opinion that Geneva cares much more about itself than surrounding towns. That's not a knock against St Charles or Batavia, it's more to do with concerned and civic minded citizens and merchants.
Rich Walker June 05, 2012 at 02:25 PM
Storm: Anyone believing Jeff Ward is anything more than a self-indulgent hack should read his reply to you. He made a rather stupid mistake...those things happen, but most men apologize and move on. Not Ward. Not only does he not accept the blame, but puts it on the internet, the fact it was Sunday, and, golly, he'd already spent a whole 20 minutes trying. Then, instead of saying "I goofed," he turns it back on you. Classic. Notice, too, how intolerant he is of any opinion but his own. The man is an oozing glob of ego.
Rick Nagel (Editor) June 05, 2012 at 05:19 PM
"Oozing Glob of Ego" would be a good name for a rock band. :) I'm sure Jeff would volunteer to sing lead.
Robert June 06, 2012 at 01:03 AM
I really enjoy this event. I hope they put some good signage out on State street and on Rt 31 so folks driving by know the event is taking place downtown. It was nice seeing all the folks eating outside at the restaurants as they watched the event 2 years ago. This will bring some action to downtown Geneva on a day when usually most of the shops are closed (why this is so I'll never fully understand)
Mark Lastname June 06, 2012 at 03:16 AM
I attended the race as a spectator the first year when it was on 3rd street. As a direct result of the race, I discovered several restaurants and shops that I previously had never visited before (including Chianti's and Preservation Bread & Wine), and have returned to many times since. Perhaps I would have eventually discovered these places, but the fact is that the bike race was directly responsible for bringing them to my attention sooner. It is difficult to understand a business owner that has such a short sighted view of the impact of an event like this. As a wise owner of a 3rd street establishment once told me privately, while they may have seen a decline in sales on race day, they are not foolish enough to not see the longer term impact, because "what's good for Geneva is good for them." The real travesty is that the pro race with world class athletes is occurring at the same time as world renowned rockers Wilco perform just a few miles east! What's a Genevan to do?! The choice is certainly a high quality problem that Geneva should be grateful to have. [insert joke here about whether there is more drug use at a rock concert or in a professional bicycle race]
Justin Eggar June 07, 2012 at 04:01 AM
I'm excited about the event - I haven't been ale to swing it in past years, but will do my best to make it this year. These little events bring some variety and spice to our lives... And we're lucky to have them (I'm including the wonderful events the Hamber puts together each year). I would like to encourage all of you to get behind this and have fun with it. If you're worried about your retail business, put up a fun ad on your A-Frame sign that will be sure to catch a bikers eye and you'll get some walk ins :) Even if you your cash register doesn't blow up that day...remember, these events help keep Geneva top of mind for people and increase our cities visibility and image/brand. That will only benefit you in the long run.

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