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What will be the big issues of 2013?


City likely to make decisions on theater, parking plans, TIF District in New Year



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December 31, 2012 | 11:53 AM
The future of the Lake Geneva TIF district, what comes to pass for the Geneva Theater and the shape of city parking are all issues that will be determined or at least visited in 2013, according to Mayor Jim Connors and City Administrator Dennis Jordan.

Changes are also expected in beach operations and a new city park may open on 34 acres of city-owned land that was once part of the former Hillmoor Golf Course.

Connors and Jordan were interviewed late last week and asked about concerns and plans for the city in the coming new year.

The local economy is also starting to look up, with about 20 new homes built over the last year, provided things don't go over a cliff.

"Things are quieting down, compared to previous years," Jordan said in a recent interview. "This past year was relatively calm. "It seems like things are getting a little bit better."

Jordan said that with the 20 new housing starts this past year, he's expecting the construction trend will continue in 2013.

Beach audit

Connors said the city intends to implement suggestions on improving operations at the beach.

In a previous Regional News story, audits over the past five years have reported that the beach operation is a potential problem.

On July 21, an auditor with Schenk, the city's auditing firm, did a formal investigation on the city's beach operation.

"We're looking to finish up the review of the beach as part of the audit by Schenk," Connors said.

Connors has said that the auditors' concern about the beach has nothing to do with the trustworthiness of either Joe Clifford, who runs the beach operations, or the city treasurer.

Rather, it is based on the amount of money that comes through the beach turnstiles every year. Among the recommendations made by the auditors is that a cash register be used to tote up the daily receipts.

New park

Connors said he also foresees creation of a new park on the southwest end of Hillmoor, the 34.85 acres of city land that, for nearly 80 years, was a part of the former Hillmoor Golf Course.

The Lake Geneva Board of Park Commissioners has been kicking around several ideas, of which three have support by the commissioners and the city council.

The first is the creation of a dog park, where dogs and their humans can play together.

The second is an 18-hole Frisbee, or disc golf course. Instead of hitting a little white ball, disc golfers throw Frisbees or other similar flying discs at baskets set on poles. Landing a disc in a basket is the same as holing a golf ball. The two games are scored the same, as well. The third option is a bike-and-hike trail along the White River, which runs through the property.

There is also a fourth option, to put all three concepts in the same area. Doug Skates, park commission president, said he spoke with an expert in Milwaukee who suggested that the uses may not be mutually exclusive.

Parking study

Connors said he's also looking forward to the parking study.

On Nov. 26, the Lake Geneva City Council voted to hire Rich & Associates Inc. of Southfield, Mich., for $26,500 to conduct the study.

Connors said the study will not just look at where people are parking, but it will also look at the parking system, including the collection, recording and use of parking system funds.

"We're always looking for improvements," Connors said.

Rich plans to collect data for the study in early 2013. The consultant plans to analyze the supply and demand for parking in the city and problems with the city's current parking system, and then suggest alternative solutions to those problems.

Proposed solutions will go beyond building more parking lots, and examine the use of alternate transportation, such as vanpooling, shuttles and encouraging more nonmotorized forms of transportation, such as bicycles.

Future of TIF

To some degree, the parking study will determine the future of the city's TIF district, Jordan said. The parking study will determine whether the city should build a parking ramp.

A parking ramp has been on the TIF district to-do list almost from the beginning.

Officially called Tax Increment Financing District 4, the district was created in 1995. Since then, it's been reformed, reorganized and reused a number of times.

If a parking ramp were not part of the city's future, it would be one less reason to keep the TIF open, Jordan said.

A city council declared its intention to close the TIF by December 2012, although it did not vote or pass a resolution making that intent official.

By law, spending in TIF 4 must end by 2017 and the district must close by 2022.

Most of TIF 4 stretches along the lakefront, but two lobes also push eastward and northward. The district is in a key location, and includes the city's business district.

TIF funds are tax dollars generated through development or improvements within the district. When a district is created, a base value is established.

All the taxing bodies from the district continue to collect money from the base value throughout the life of the district. However, any taxes collected above the base value go to the TIF fund.

The underlying assumption of a TIF district is that no new development would have taken place if the district had not been created. Public improvement costs would have been too prohibitive for the community or a developer to do alone.

Lake Geneva's TIF does very well. This year, it is expected to gather in $1,991,000 the city could use for improvements with the TIF district area.

The proposed parking ramp was budgeted early on at $1 million, which may not be enough for an adequate ramp today.

Geneva Theater

Among the items that might still receive TIF funding is a proposal that the city buy the Geneva Theatre, 244 Broad St., for a group called Friends of Lake Geneva Theatre, and having the Friends turn it into a cultural center.

Jordan said the city council members will probably need a meeting to decide whether to commit to the project.

The Friends of Geneva Theater want to bring the old building back to life with live music, theater and art.

In July, the group presented the city council with a formal proposal. If the city buys the old theater with TIF funds, the Friends would create a Lake Geneva community culture and arts center.

The Friends said they will finance and maintain the arts center.

The group promised that once the city bought the theater building, the cultural arts center housed there would not cost the city anything.

While the creation of a cultural arts center in the downtown is viewed as a positive by the city council members, not all are convinced that the Friends' proposal is workable. And there is the question, what does the city do with the building if the arts center doesn't work out? Again, the decision on the theater will have an impact on whether the city TIF district is closed this year.

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