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updated: 2/19/2014 6:15 PM

Report: Part of Mill Race Inn likely salvageable

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Editor’s note: This story was updated to correct a quotation from Commissioner Alan Hiller. The Geneva Historic Preservation Commissioner said Monday that he thought a lot of residents would not want the Mill Race Inn torn down.

Of course the Geneva Historic Preservation Commission would love to see one of the town's first business buildings saved.

But the commission decided Tuesday to hold off on making any recommendations to save part of the Mill Race Inn, 4 E. State St.

Commissioners will bide their time until a potential buyer makes a proposal for the property public.

"Let the developer do his thing, and then come to us. He may agree. It would serve us well to kind of stay out of his way for a while, not antagonize the guy," said Al Hiller.

Michael Lambert, the city's preservation planner, said a buyer is doing "due diligence" fact-finding about the property, including how much is in a floodplain. City officials have declined to identify the prospect, but local real estate developer Joe Stanton had made an offer on the property in 2013.

The commission reviewed a report on the history of the property that was developed by city staff members, commissioners and volunteers.

Essentially, an 1846 manufactory, the second building on the site, is the only part that would come close to meeting criteria for placement on the National Register of Historic Places.

Commissioner Caroline Zinke called the building a "perfect nugget" around which to construct something new. The city's Downtown/Station Area Master Plan identifies the complex as an "opportunity site" well-suited to banquet or restaurant use.

The property first housed a blacksmith shop, in 1842. The first building disappeared; there's no record of what happened to it.

A second building, of limestone and timber, was built in 1846.

Other buildings and additions were made throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, surrounding the 1846 building.

The 1846 building is where Ann Forsyth opened the Mill Race Inn tearoom in 1933. She did so at the urging of Geneva business legend Kate Raftery, who had opened The Little Traveler store on South Third Street in the 1920s.

The 1846 building has most of its original walls, according to the report. A concrete floor replaced the original dirt floor in the cellar.

The report states there is no evidence that cellar has ever flooded, unlike lower levels in the rest of the complex through the years. The area that housed a pub was filled with river water during an August 2007 Fox River flood. It never reopened.

The restaurant closed in January 2011 and went in to foreclosure. Plaza Bank now owns it.

The equalized assessed valuation has dropped by 60 percent since 2009, according to Geneva Township assessment records.

The complex is part of an area in which the city is considering establishing a tax-incentive financing district to spur business.

In a TIF district, the assessed value of property is frozen at a base amount, and property taxes paid on this base continue to go to taxing bodies. Any increase in taxes caused by an increase in the property's value goes to a special fund to pay for whatever work made the property more valuable, such as buildings or improvements to road and utilities. TIF districts are supposed to rejuvenate blighted properties.

The Mill Race Inn is not in the city's historic district.

And Hiller said he thinks there are a lot of residents who would favor tearing it down.

"I don't know if we would get the same kind of backing (for preservation) as for the Pure Oil building," he said.