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Residents Help in Shaping a Master Plan for Geneva's Downtown

Workshop gathers local input for the future face of the downtown business district.

Anyone can be a mover and shaker of Geneva’s downtown commercial and residential district, as nearly 100 residents discovered at Wednesday’s Downtown Master Plan Workshop. Residents and public officials joined forces to discuss how to approach downtown redevelopment over the next two decades.

“We don’t want to be in the position of reacting to proposals brought by developers 10 years from now,” explained John Houseal, co-founder of Houseal Lavigne and Associates, a Chicago-area consulting firm the city hired to draw up a master plan for the downtown area. “We want to be able to say, ‘This is what we already had planned for that location. Does this proposal fit that plan?’ ”

After Houseal outlined what issues the master plan should address, he split workshop participants into 10 teams, armed them with maps and colored markers, and turned them loose to brainstorm ways to improve downtown. The teams debated everything from where to add public parking to what the downtown area’s official boundaries should be.

“We’ve decided that we should extend downtown from Anderson Boulevard to East Side Drive and from the county complex (opposite the corner of Route 31 and Third Street) to North Street,” said Fifth Ward Alderman Craig Maladra, who joined one of the teams. “That makes the most sense from a development standpoint.”

Several participants offered suggestions on how to ease the downtown parking crunch.

“The city should tear down the old Viking Office Supply building and expand its parking lot for public use,” said Gloria Campbell.

Former Second Ward Alderman Merritt King raised a possibility he remembered from his 85 years of living in the city. “When (architect) Thomas Emma did the parking lot for the old courthouse decades ago, he put in footings for a second level,” said the 92-year-old civic leader. “I don’t know how much it would cost, but we could build a second-level parking deck there that would let people park within easy walking distance of the downtown merchants.”

People also discussed the future of several downtown landmarks.

“I hope that, if the library moves, we can keep the library building,” King said. “It’s so beautiful, and the original section was built with Carnegie funds in the '20s, so it’s historically significant.”

First Ward Alderman Charles Brown and his team suggested that the Kane County Government Center would make a great senior-citizens housing complex if the county government outgrows it. “Expanding business development down to the river has been a failure, but residential development by the river generally works out well,” Brown noted.

Maladra advocated what he calls the “downtown shuffle”—moving the library into the closed Cetron factory near Geneva High School, relocating city offices into the library building and turning City Hall into a community center. And if Kane County ever vacates the old courthouse at Third and James streets, the city could turn it into an indoor “emporium” of small shops, possibly with a common theme, while leaving the historic façade intact, he said.

At the end of the workshop, each team presented its main suggestions, which Houseal said would be added to the project’s website. Residents also can view development maps and post their own suggestions by clicking on the “Participate” link.

For more information on the downtown master plan process, contact Community Development Director Dick Untch at 232-7494.

Colin C. March 12, 2011 at 01:46 PM
For many years we lived in a town in New York that was similar to Geneva. Population: 24,000, county seat, good location, good people. The major difference was that this town consistently failed to plan for the future. The city government simply reacted, on a piecemeal basis, to every development proposal that came along. Those with influence got to do pretty much whatever they wished. By the time we retired and moved back home to Geneva that town had entered a terrible decline. The downtown business district was nearly empty. The 250 year history of the town was lost to short term financial gain for a few. The "affordable housing" developments attracted people who made it necessary for the schools to employ a large security force and made it unsafe to go down town alone at night. Property values had plunged compared with neighboring towns. It was very sad to see what had happened to that town. Geneva, on the other hand, has a history of careful, long range planning. It has served us well and I, having experienced the results of poor planning first hand, cannot say enough about how well Geneva does in this regard. Granted, not everyone is always pleased with the results but we do better here, I think, than most towns.

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