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Jeff Ward: The City Council Strikes Another Blow Against the Municipal Mindset

I could get used to this kind of governance!

I gotta tell ya, I absolutely love this kind of thinking. Give me proactivity or give me death! Well … maybe not death. Perhaps a severe headache? In any event, I think the citizens of Geneva could really get used to this!

First, they hold the line on a proposed property and now a group of four alderman just called a at the just to listen to the concerns of downtown business owners.

So despite having to expose my follicly challenged head, my hat’s off to those downtown aldermen, Chuck Brown, Sam Hill, Ralph Dantino, and Craig Maladra who were smart enough to remind the rest of us what representative government is really all about.

“A couple of us were having a discussion over a brew at a local pub—just two of us, so it was a legal meeting—and we were talking over concerns about the downtown and shops that were closed and the business climate in general,” Hill said. “You know, you can look at sales tax figures, but those are three months late, so we said, let’s open the floodgates. If we have to be more assertive in our role as aldermen, we're willing to do that.”

Once again, if it wasn’t for those pesky restraining orders, at least a couple of those aldermen would learn, firsthand, exactly what it’s like to get a wet one from a somewhat overenthusiastic opinion columnist.

And it only gets better!

“We want to get it direct,” Hill said, “The chamber is a great organization, but they don’t represent every single business because they’re not all members. So we’ve offered to speak to—and listen to—every business owner … ”

Excellent! I’d go as far as saying the Chamber of Commerce has lost their way, but let's not sully a positive column by going down that road!

I know Owner Marty Kane will be there to remind everyone that, “There needs to be a reason to shop downtown Geneva.” Though folks are giving me the credit for this concept, it was actually Marty that planted the seed of an Apple Store in the former Merra-Lee location.

I’m sure that Joe Stanton, one of the members of my downtown economic dream team, will also be there. (Joe! I promise we’ll do lunch soon!) His optimism for our central business district is extremely infectious, and he knows exactly what it takes to run a successful independent enterprise.

I’d like to encourage Geneva Running Outfitters owner Eric Ott to attend, as well. He’s yet another entrepreneur who tends to look outward and forward instead of inward and backward. There’s still an awful lot of entitlement mentality going on in downtown Geneva and the last thing I or the aldermanic quartet want is for this gathering to become Gripe Fest 2012.

It shouldn’t turn into what most School Board meetings have become, where a minority has turned to harassment as a weapon instead of real dialogue.

While our municipal leaders have a responsibility to spread the kind of fertilizer that provides the basis for a thriving downtown, it’s up to the merchants to cultivate the crop.

Economic Development Director Ellen Divita has recently been pushing for the city, and thus the taxpayer, to spend more money downtown, but no one really wants to throw good money after bad. Successful businessmen already know that the good Lord tends to help those who choose to help themselves.

Remember, it isn’t about what the citizens of Geneva can do for you, it’s about how we can help you to help yourselves. You gotta meet us halfway and then take the ball and run with it.

I truly hope a majority of the downtown merchants attend and come prepared to listen because without evening hours, excellent service and a collective downtown promotion mentality, the end is near.

In great part, because of the hassle of dealing with short sighted business owners, there will be no Geneva bike race this year. That’s means a rare lost opportunity to have a couple of thousand new eyes focus on your enterprise. They may not spend money that day, but once the seed has been planted…

As Alderman Hill so aptly pointed out, this a council meeting open to all of Geneva, so please feel free to attend yourself. Again it’s March 14, the Urban Grille at 6 p.m. I’m sure Rick and/or I will be there.

“Where it goes from there, I don’t know,” Hill added. “We just want to be open to them. We feel it’s important. And we don’t always have a chance to sit down and just listen.”

Go get ‘em boys!

Dave Erickson February 27, 2012 at 12:43 PM
What no bike race? I wonder what lucky town will have those hundreds if not thousands of people eating in their restaurants and shopping in their shops? Guess it won't be our town. At least the merchants of Geneva won't have to be bothered by all that pesky extra business.
Edward February 27, 2012 at 01:02 PM
Genius! An Apple Store would bring so many visitors and shoppers to our beautiful 3rd Street and truly help in a step towards revitalizing this area.
Jeff Ward February 27, 2012 at 01:09 PM
Edward, Again, Mary Kane of Great Harvest Bread gets the credit for that thought - I'm only pushing it! Jeff
Mike February 27, 2012 at 01:44 PM
Putting it Simply. . .It's about time. Well done to Hill, Ward, Marty and I am sure Stanton will be a positive contributor. A good start. Businessmen/women can give you the guidance you need to shore up the failing downtown economic policies and don't have to belong to an overpriced organization. Just listen to them. Looks like a colition of businesses is forming.
Mike February 27, 2012 at 01:46 PM
I forgot to include Mary Kane with the well done. Kudo's to Mary.
Storm Nielsen February 27, 2012 at 03:06 PM
Is the same Joe who proposed razing the Pure Oil building for a bank drive-thru?
Storm Nielsen February 27, 2012 at 03:08 PM
Just a couple of quick questions here: This is a meeting for these aldermen to listen to local business owners, chamber members or not, correct? This is because they know what works well for their collective businesses and what does not. And you think this is a great idea? Corrct me if I'm wrong Jeff. Yet, in your article, Jeff, you state, "In great part, because of the hassle of dealing with short sighted business owners, there will be no Geneva bike race this year. That’s means a rare lost opportunity to have a couple of thousand new eyes focus on your enterprise. They may not spend money that day, but once the seed has been planted." So, somehow, you are thinking that these same business owners who are "shortsighted" for this particular event, but not in other ideas? Could it be your passion for the event is making you "shortsighted"?
Steven Sheehan February 27, 2012 at 03:15 PM
A 2 part Comment Part 1 Here are some things that are — Uniquely Geneva Geneva is where your dry cleaner will open up the door on a Sunday evening to find a missing pair of pants. Geneva is where the butcher hosts a weekend bbq with great food and fellowship Geneva is where the eye doctor transforms property not meant for doctors. Geneva is where the jeweler knows your ring size without measuring. Distill all the things that are uniquely Geneva and create a rhyme describing the wide assortment of product/services using a Dr. Seuss rhyming style. Seuss is playful and unique — Remind those near and far that Geneva is playful and unique. Value and price are owned by the big boxes — uniqueness and service need to be owned by our merchants.
Steven Sheehan February 27, 2012 at 03:16 PM
Part 2 Regarding the comment on a “minority has turned to harassment” (interesting choice of words, particularly during Black History Month), were you not acting in the minority when you submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the City of Geneva. The detailed information you requested required time and resources of our city staff members. One could argue quite effectively that harassing the city over the redlight revenue stream, is more egregious as the city consumes only about .08 cents of every real estate tax dollar you pay. Contrast that with CUSD 304 which consumes about .70 cents of every tax dollar from Geneva real estate tax payers. Your actions have served the greater community by bringing to light information that might not otherwise be exposed, and by focusing our attention on the issues. Thank you for your harassing efforts.
Jeff Ward February 27, 2012 at 03:58 PM
Steven, The difference is, that's my first FOIA request to the city of Geneva in 6 months and my second within a year. And I made sure the information wasn't readily available before I made the request! Jeff
Tom Konopacki February 27, 2012 at 04:54 PM
I am a business owner in downtown Geneva, and I did not realize that the local merchants "hassled" the organizers of the bike race so bad that they are not planning the event again this year. Are you sure that there were no other reasons? My biggest question from the start was that if this was such a great event, then why did the former hosting city give it up?
Tom Konopacki February 27, 2012 at 06:09 PM
For the record, I am owner of "Anastazia - Treasures for the Home", 447 S. Third St in the Dodson Place Courtyard. We support every event and festival that is planned in downtown Geneva, and there are many other business owners like me - so please don't generalize all downtown business owners as short sighted.
Jeff Ward February 27, 2012 at 06:14 PM
Tom, The Elgin race was much bigger than the Geneva race. It's like comparing apples and oranges. Elgin hosted it for years and they often did two races every season so they decided to do just one. Any merchant that doesn't understand - and I mean any merchant, not just you - that 2,000 new eyes on your business doesn't have an inevitable long-term benefit shouldn't be running a business to begin with. And a smart guy like Joe Stanton will back me up on that. Jeff
Storm Nielsen February 27, 2012 at 06:23 PM
"Any merchant that doesn't understand - and I mean any merchant, not just you - that 2,000 new eyes on your business doesn't have an inevitable long-term benefit shouldn't be running a business to begin with." Hmmm.... Sounds like an "expert" opinion. Tell me Jeff, just which business do you own and operate in downtown Geneva that makes you offer that particual opinion?
Jeff Ward February 27, 2012 at 06:28 PM
Storm, It is an expert opinion. I was a business consultant for 17 years - Wrigley, USG, Motorola, General Foods, SBC, Philips Electronics and much more. Jeff
Storm Nielsen February 27, 2012 at 07:36 PM
Doesn't sound like small town retail to me. Sounds more like large manufacturing businesses who also are vendors to big box retail giants. IOW, folks whose pockets are deep. Sales in many figures over than a small town retail merchant. A small town retail merchant is one who personally owns, operates and manages their business every day. Someone who is there to meet and greet their customers daily. Someone who intimately sees what goes on daily in their business district. Someone who has an idea of their customer's buying habits. But, you've have never owned and operated a small town business then, have you?
Jeff Ward February 27, 2012 at 08:05 PM
Storm, Some people are never happy (or can admit they're wrong)! The principles of running a successful business are the same regardless of the size of the business. How many huge, deep pocketed businesses have gone out because they didn't get it - Borders, Circuit City, Kids R Us, Montgomery Ward, Builders Square and soon Sears and Barnes and Noble. They all had competition that killed 'em off it's the same equation in downtown Geneva - sink or swim. Consulting for successful companies taught me the difference between those who do it right and those who don't. There are folks that want you to tell them want they want to hear versus those who want to hear what you really have to say. Guess which businesses survive? Wrigley will never go out of businesses. And I'm currently running a successful small town online business right now! Dude, you got busted because you didn't think I was an expert and now you're trying to weasel out of it. Good luck with that! Jeff
Tom Konopacki February 27, 2012 at 08:25 PM
I never said that I was against the Bike Race. I just questioned why this event was dropped from it's former host city - now I know. Just because a few squeaky wheels made noise, that doesn't mean that all 100+ businesses in downtown Geneva agree with them.
Storm Nielsen February 27, 2012 at 08:39 PM
Sorry Jeff, your remark is really inappropriate. I suspect I hit a nerve. Please, do not accuse me of trying to extricate myself from something I feel I know a bit about. We're still talking apples and oranges. If you have an online business you're operating, that's great! My wife and I did the same. Then we went to brick and mortar. Big differences. I didn't want this to develop into a p!ssing contest. Your remark seems like you want to go there. Do you? Or, do you have a difficult time admitting that you may be wrong? That maybe some merchants may be right. If you have not figured out what I've been trying to say, it is this. Have you walked a mile in the shoes of a small town retail business owner? Do you have any idea of what they do? Their worries and complaints?
Gregoir February 27, 2012 at 08:45 PM
After I wade through the gratuitous attacks and smears that Jeff is always compelled to include in anything he writes - I do find one thing of possible substance: An Apple Store at State and Third. The question is, do we have the demographics and sheer numbers to make it appealing? How does one go about pitching the idea to Apple? If we could rise above the petty BS for a moment maybe we could accomplish this.
Jeff Ward February 27, 2012 at 08:59 PM
Gregoir, I wrote an entire Patch column on bringing in an Apple store, downtown development and exactly who my downtown economic dream team would consist of (Kevin Burns and Joe Stanton). I'm hoping - but not claiming - that column had something to do with the 4 alderman calling this meeting. Jeff
Jeff Ward February 27, 2012 at 09:01 PM
Tom, You're absolutely right, but enough of them disagreed to make the organizers feel, at least for this year, the effort to put on the race would not be worthwhile. Jeff
Bob McQuillan February 28, 2012 at 03:31 AM
If you aren't claiming that your column was the reason four aldermen called this meeting, then why mention it at all? Every Genevan knows that you already have your hands full working behind the scenes to solve the School District's $325 million dollar debt repayment problem For you to solve the retail business crisis would be all of Geneva just asking for too much. Glad to see you are willing to give all the credit to the four aldermen. Oh wait, you aren't willing to do that are you Mr. Oz. I guess you'll want to sit in on the meeting so you can provide all the solutions.
Tim M. February 28, 2012 at 05:33 AM
Tread carefully, Bob - delusion people can react violently when their fantasy worlds are threatened
Rick Nagel (Editor) February 28, 2012 at 03:19 PM
Editor's note: For the record and for clarity, the user "Tim M." in this thread is not School Board member Tim Moran. Tim M. and others: Please log in using your full name.

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