GENEVA – The Geneva City Council will decide the fate of a circa 1843 limestone blacksmith shop, as the owners appealed the Historic Preservation Commission’s denial of its request to remove its historic landmark designation and allow it to be demolished.
The special meeting is at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the City Council Chambers, 109 James St., Geneva.
If an applicant does not agree with the Historic Preservation Commission’s decision on a property, they can appeal directly to the City Council.
The Shodeen Family Foundation owns the former Mill Race Inn property at 4 E. State St., a 1.4- acre site at the southwest corner of Routes 38 and 25.
Demolition is a last resort if the owner has no other alternatives – an issue disputed between David Patzelt, representing the Shodeens, and various preservationists.
The commission heard testimony at a hearing that was continued from January to July before deciding at its August meeting to deny both requests.
Patzelt had testified to the poor condition of the limestone structure, based on architects’ analysis for repurposing and restoring the structure.
He cited the assessment from architectural firm AltusWorks, which found the structure to be “severely deteriorated, poor condition, missing limestone, cracked mortar joints, not properly mortared joints, unstable, no longer stable. … The existing structural remnants of the original … building are only marginally stable.”
Among those advocating for preservation were Geneva resident Colin Campbell, Kendra Parzen, advocacy manager for Landmarks Illinois and Al Watts of Preservation Partners of the Fox Valley.
Landmarks Illinois designated the blacksmith shop as one of the most endangered historic places in the state in 2023 and in 2018.
“In 2018, Landmarks Illinois included this building among the most endangered historic places in Illinois,” Parzen testified at the Jan. 18 hearing. “This circa-1846 blacksmith shop is one of the oldest surviving commercial structures in Geneva and it’s an important structure associated with Geneva’s pioneer era.”
The city’s preliminary historic evaluation of the site was described “as one of the few examples of pre-1850 commercial or industrial buildings in Geneva and is among the oldest of its kind in the entire Fox Valley.”
“The building stands, in 2018, as an example of a utilitarian building that – for more than 170 years – has been adapted and re-purposed, continuously, to accommodate growth and redevelopment of the east bank of the Fox River at Geneva,” according to the evaluation.
To make his point of the lack of viability for the blacksmith shop structure, Patzelt put a sign on it in March offering to sell it for $1 to illustrate its poor condition.
So far, Patzelt said, the sign only brought in offers to demolish it.
The city hired Planning consultants from Teska Associates and The Planera Group to evaluate the property.
Their representatives testified that the 180-year-old structure could be saved – with $1.5 million from a tax increment finance district – but then revised the to $1.7 million.
A tax increment financing district – known as a TIF – is a development tool used by local governments to encourage development or redevelopment in blighted areas that would be too expensive to improve with private dollars alone.
A TIF investment would be equal to 3.5% of the total development cost for the full site, which would be about $40 to $42 million, Scott Goldstein of Teska Associates testified in June.
“There is less risk because the public is investing in the project,” Goldstein said.
in 2012, applicant Joe Stanton sought permission to demolish the 1935-built Pure Oil building at 502 W. State St.
The Historic Preservation Commission voted against it, a decision ultimately upheld by the City Council.
The building still stands, its service bays converted to a drive-through lanes for Geneva Bank & Trust.