Plan revived to demolish 1843 blacksmith shop in Geneva

  • The Shodeen Family Foundation again applied for a demolition permit for the circa 1843 limestone structure remaining at the Mill Race property in Geneva. The developer has also sought for its landmark status to be removed to facilitate the demolition.

    The Shodeen Family Foundation again applied for a demolition permit for the circa 1843 limestone structure remaining at the Mill Race property in Geneva. The developer has also sought for its landmark status to be removed to facilitate the demolition. Shaw Local News Network

 
 
Updated 12/1/2022 8:46 AM

The Shodeen Family Foundation wants to remove the historic landmark designation of the original circa 1843 limestone blacksmith shop at the Mill Race property in Geneva so the structure can be demolished, according to documents filed with the city.

After approving landmark designation in 2018, the city council last May approved reducing the size of the building to give more leeway to redeveloping the 1.4-acre site at 4 E. State St.

 

David Patzelt, representing the Shodeen Family Foundation, filed a 159-page application last month with the city's community development department.

In short, an architect with historic preservation experience has determined that redeveloping the 30-by-48-square-foot structure would cost $1,000 per square foot, according to Patzelt.

"There is no building in Geneva that has a value of $1,000 a square foot," Patzelt said. "Even (Northwestern Medicine) Delnor Hospital -- one of the most expensive things to build -- is not $1,000 a square foot. Nobody -- no sane person -- would pay to build that for $1,000 a square foot."

A small mom-and-pop type store would not generate any kind of revenue, Patzelt said, and even as a coffee shop, access would be too limited without a drive-through.

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Patzelt said they can't build on top of it because its footings are unstable -- the same reason they can't move it.

The filing follows a yearslong process for the Shodeens, first buying the shuttered iconic restaurant, the Mill Race Inn, demolishing ancillary structures damaged by flood, and then trying to arrive at a development acceptable to the city and the public.

Even a series of planning meetings with the public in 2019 did not end with an acceptable plan.

The most recent filing includes information from Muehlfelt Enterprises, a building mover company, which stated that the structure is not movable and that there are no locations within the Historic District to relocate it.

Even moving it and trying to reassemble it somewhere else will not work, Patzelt said, because it's too heavy and unstable.

Patzelt said there are only two options. Either the city contributes funding for the restoration of the limestone structure or allows its demolition. He said the stones could be used to create a gateway feature in homage to the site's history.

But Al Watts, the community engagement director for Preservation Partners of the Fox Valley in St. Charles, said Shodeen is only looking at one option -- $1.4 million to create a retail space.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Frankly, it is not the best option for that space," Watts said.

Watts also disputed that it would be too fragile or heavy to move without an engineering study to say so.

"From a historic preservation standpoint, moving it is a last-resort kind of situation. And the reason is because the historic significance of that building is that location," Watts said. "Move it, and you really kind of lose the significance of it."

Geneva was settled in 1834, and the structure was created to generate power from the Fox River, Watts said.

"It's the only building on the river in Geneva that used water power, and (it was) the main reason for settling in Geneva," Watts said. "Geneva's heritage is Geneva's brand. That building has touched everybody since the early settlers to today."

The building was a blacksmith shop, a wheelwright, a coopery and a laundry. In the 1920s, it was an auto repair and sales shop, and in 1933 a restaurant, Watts said.

"There's lots of things they could do with that building to incorporate it within a larger project," Watts said. "Making it a retail stand-alone is the most expensive and the least viable."

Patzelt has a Dec. 8 deadline to respond to staff's questions and requirements before the Historic Preservation Commission would schedule a public hearing.

The city council would take final action on the commission's recommendation.

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