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What do Kent Shodeen and Eddie Haskell Have in Common?

Spoiler alert! They didn't both star in beloved '60s sitcoms.

No one reminds me of that unctuous Leave it to Beaver ne’er do well Eddie Haskell more than Geneva developer Kent Shodeen. Just like Eddie easily bamboozled clueless 1960s parents with his hyper-smarmy ministrations, Kent uses political clout to get away with same kind of murder.

Though he’s not generally known for it, Kent’s largesse to local politicians is legendary. All it takes is few quick keystrokes on the Illinois State Board of Elections website to reveal he’s doled out almost $100,000 since 1997.

And when it comes to contributing to political coffers, Kent is utterly non-denominational. From Karen McConnaughay to Tom Weisner and Ken Ramsey to Pat Quinn, one might say our overeager real estate mogul likes to hedge his bets.

Sure! Every now and then a municipal/county body will stand up to Shodeen Management, but for the most part, Kent gets his way. You know what they say about that vociferous cash.

Aside from sidling up to candidates of all ilk, Kent’s second-favorite pastime is flying just low enough to come in under the radar. He’s not doing anything illegal, but his business motto is what the public doesn’t know won’t hurt him.

Ah! But Kent’s most recent plans to flit about our fair city like an over-age Swedish ninja were summarily foiled when Geneva Patch noted that Shodeen Management was fighting its Geneva on the Dam building’s property tax assessment to the tune of $460,000.

Should they prevail, that translates into $42,000 less for taxing bodies like the School District and Geneva Township. Now, you know I don’t shed too many tears for the township, but this kind of thing gives credence to District 304’s philosophical difficulty with a zero levy increase. When the bigger fish fight their assessments, it means unexpected red ink.

But what Kent’s really hoping you’ve forgotten is the very thing erudite reader Rod Nelson just judiciously brought to our attention! It was Geneva taxpayers who underwrote that 1982 Geneva on the Dam project. And then we did it again for Shodeen’s Herrington complex in 1986.

Through the magic of TIFs, or tax increment financing districts, sales tax revenue is rerouted from essential city services to a specific development plan in the hopes that the down-the-road revenue will more than offset the initial loss.

While they may work well on paper, more often than not, TIFs are used as rewards for the mayor’s favorite donors and, far more often than not, these projects never live up to their gilded-lily billing which ends up costing the taxpayers even more.

Which brings us back to Geneva on the Dam. While The Herrington certainly seems to be doing fine, in the 15 years I’ve lived out here, that earlier Shodeen endeavor seems to be about as badly mismanaged as an Illinois Republican’s election campaign.

C’mon! If Elgin can make a go of its riverfront, then Sho-Deen Management, with all its money and all Geneva’s "quaint" cred should be able to make the Dam thing work. The plethora of recent Patch pieces on our improved real estate/retail picture makes one wonder if Kent prefers the loss to improve his income-tax return.

So, since once apparently isn’t enough, now Kent’s coming back to the taxpayers for another round of relief! It’s even worse than a nefarious party goer who insists on attacking the salsa after taking a bite out of the Tostito.

“But Jeff! Don’t I recall a previous column in which you claimed to have fought various tax assessments — two of them on Geneva homes — and won?”

Yes! It’s true! Fighting your property tax bill is a God-given right, as American as apple pie and Michael Madigan. But the big difference is, unlike Geneva on the Dam, you didn’t subsidize the purchase of either one of my homes.

The sad thing is, to a man of Kent’s means, 42 grand is a lot like the spare change you and I carelessly throw into that big jar in the laundry room. Perhaps if Kent fought that spendthrift urge to spread around the candidate money, he wouldn’t need so much of ours.

One would hope that our intrepid developer would have the internal moral fiber to say, “I’ve gone to the taxpayers once, so I’m not going to do it again.” Failing that, perhaps he’d be to embarrassed to be caught double dipping.

But not Kent! Nope! Like Wally and the Beav implicitly understood about Eddie all along, Kent Shodeen is out for himself.

robert poznanski January 21, 2013 at 01:41 PM
Hey Jeff! He is only doing what every businessman in our great country is doing, trying to "control costs", in the form of trying to reduce, "outlays!" If you are going to attack him for this, you must also realize that every corporate entity, from the smallest, to the largest, has some sort of "control" they utilize, to reduce tax outlay, be it congressional "forgiveness, in the form of write off's. or special dispensations, given in the name of "competitive advantage!" There is a whole industry involved with reducing tax outlay, for those who can afford it, and, it is just the way it is! It appears that you have gone that route, and it doesn't mean you are a "bad person", just an informed citizen! It is the American way, to "reduce your tax load!" Until the codes are rewritten , to make them more "fair", this is the way, things are done, and its just, "doing business!"
Jeff Ward January 21, 2013 at 01:57 PM
Robert, That is a very reasonable argument, but call me a dreamer - I'd like to see more businessmen with a conscience. And remember, though I have contested property tax assessments, you didn't help pay for my house. Jeff
Dave B January 21, 2013 at 02:49 PM
Jeff, Do you know the details of the TIF, more specifically how long this piece of property was under the TIF arrangement? Just curious. Dave
Jeff Ward January 21, 2013 at 03:02 PM
Dave, No I don't. Though I had to do some digging to get those years of inception, correct, I did not come up with that data. But if feel inclined, that would be an easy FOIA from the City. Simply FOIA the details of the Geneva on the Dam TIF. Jeff
Beth Bales January 21, 2013 at 04:40 PM
I THINK the TIF was created for that property in the very early '80s. I want to say it was for 23 years (but it may have been 21 or 22). I was a reporter at The Beacon-News at the time, and once knew all this stuff. But that was quite some time ago. Kurt Wehrmeister may remember the details. And I believe it was the city's first TIF district. No, the taxing bodies, particularly the school district, were not enthused.
J Bars January 21, 2013 at 06:00 PM
Very insightful, Jeff . . . hopefully, the elected officials in Elburn will read your column and connect the dots.
Lisa P January 21, 2013 at 06:45 PM
Great reporting and love the analogy to Eddie.
Sister Elenita January 21, 2013 at 07:56 PM
Robert, your comment is complete nonsense. Shodeen received a subsidy from taxpayers, now is trying to renege on his end of the deal. Hey Patch, how about revisiting the trade between Shodeen and Geneva, Geneva got the commuter lot on 3rd, didn't Shodeen get the old hospital and adjacent land, which had far more value than an old lumber mill?
Jeff Ward January 21, 2013 at 08:36 PM
Lisa, Thank you, but most of the credit should go to Patch reader Rod Nelson who remembered those were TIFs to being with! Jeff
Kurt Wehrmeister January 24, 2013 at 05:54 PM
Beth is correct. We both covered those meetings in '80-'82; she for the Beacon-News, I for The Republican. It was Geneva's first TIF district; I believe it was one of the first in the state. Exactly when the TIF district went into effect I don't know; I recall covering a ceremonial "groundbreaking" (on a cement slab!) on a cold day in November 1982. And the TIF time period was indeed 23 years. So, if, for the sake of argument, the TIF went into effect in, say, Feb. '83 (which is roughly when the earth-movers started on installation of the utilities that the TIF funds were to pay for), then that the tax-deferrals would have expired in 2006. We made the argument then -- and I still would today, even with the benefit of hindsight -- that the whole 8-acre area, profoundly, met the requirement of being "blighted" to qualify for TIF funding. The huge parcel -- right in the center of town -- had been a crumbling, embarrassing eyesore for at least the previous 15 years. For a time in the mid- to late '70s, a team of three developers -- the McConnaughays and Tom Rossetter with Shodeen, if I recall correctly, tried to get something going. That consortium fell apart. So in the barely recovering economy of late 1982, Kent Shodeen was willing to take on the risk himself, with the help of the TIF concept. How many more years would it have sat crumbling otherwise--generating NO tax revenue? Probably not too many -- but no one could know that then.
Kurt Wehrmeister January 24, 2013 at 06:00 PM
(This should appear right below my comment just posted; don't know if it will.) Jeff is arguing, essentially, that because Kent Shodeen received the "gift" of TIF funding for sidewalks and other public utilities on the Geneva-on-the-Dam project, 30 years ago, now, he should feel obligated to "return the favor" by accepting a tax assessment that may (or may not) reflect a "market value" significantly larger than actual market value? I can't agree.
Jeff Ward January 24, 2013 at 07:16 PM
Kurt, Despite the fact you disagree with me, I love your astute observations. But I issued a caveat in the column. The first is that Geneva on The Dam is utterly mismanaged by a management group that typically does a reasonable job. I could make that building work with even a halfhearted effort. Thus, I believe Shodeen wants to take that loss. To counter your other point, given the roaring 88 - 2007 economy - especially the real estate market - someone would have come in and done something with that land. And they probably would've done a better job than Shodeen. Thus, I stand by my original argument! Jeff
Kurt Wehrmeister January 24, 2013 at 09:58 PM
Jeff, certainly no argument here that maintenance at GOTD has had its obvious shortcomings over the years. But . . . a deliberate decision by Shodeen Inc. to let a property deteriorate that it is trying to lease, in a local market flooded with square-footage? I'm skeptical. My point, I suppose, is that it would be wrong to characterize the TIF concept -- especially there, and especially then -- as inappropriate "corporate welfare" for a property developer. (Remember, TIF funds were for public improvements only -- sidewalks, streetlights, water/sewer/gas/electric. I wish you could see the photos we took in the summers of '79 and '80, especially during and after the frequent fires; several per year! "Eyesore" doesn't begin to describe it. "Ancient ruins" is more like it. The whole riverfront area had been abandoned by the Jefferson Ice and Pope Glucose factories more than a half-century before -- and something had to be done to kick-start development. Most developers looked at it, gulped, turned on their heels and went off to easier projects. And yes, with hindsight, the late '80s-'90s boom would have seen it take off. But no one KNEW that then. During '80 and early '81, with mortgage money at 15-17% and inflation almost as high, I quoted intelligent people on our Plan Commission and City Council who wondered, out loud and on the record, whether "another single-family home will ever be built here." The use of TIF there, and then, was absolutely the right thing to do.
Jeff Ward January 24, 2013 at 10:31 PM
Kurt, Maybe this is hindsight, but the other caveat in the column is TIFs tend to go to generous friends. And then they tend to fall flat on their face. And remember, nature abhors a vacuum. As one reader pointed out, if the market could bear that development, it would already be there. In the end, municipalities really need to stop participating in this insane competition for businesses because it's ultimately self-defeating. These corporations know exactly how to take advantage of salivating cities and it never ends well. Create a reasonable business environment and let the chips fall where they may. Trying to manipulate the market is a fool's endeavor, just ask the Hunt brothers. Jeff

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