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Janesville native plans upscale Italian wine bar at Legends Tavern

JANESVILLE

The soon-to-be new owner of the building that houses Legends Tavern plans to turn the blue-collar downtown bar into an upscale wine bar that he says will honor his family and the building’s original architecture.

Television executive and Janesville native Greg Hughes said the circa-1865 Italianate building at 11 N. Main St. will retire its 37-year moniker, Legends, by April and reopen as Genisa—a sleek Italian wine bar.

The future night spot is part of a three-piece set of renovations Hughes said will start this fall with top-to-bottom renovations of the building’s long-unimproved third and fourth floors.

Preliminary designs call for a short-term rental condo and a reception space in the upper floors to be built alongside a three-tier, all-season patio and cigar deck in the grassy lot next to Legends.

Both will be accents for Genisa, the European café-style centerpiece on the ground floor.

Hughes, who is vice president of communications for NBCUniversal Sports Group, said he is longtime friends with Tim Millis, owner of Legends, and Bruce Monson, who owns the grassy lot just north.

Hughes visited Janesville in summer and was with a few friends on the riverfront patio outside the Cobblestone Hotel. He said he felt inspired by the downtown riverfront and an opportunity he spotted straight across the Rock River: the Legends building and vacant lot next door.

Hughes said he called Millis from the Cobblestone patio, and the Legends owner answered right away.

“I said, ‘I’m interested in buying the building from you. Are you interested in selling?’” Hughes said. “If he’d have said, ‘No, I’m going to hang on to it for five more years,’ then it wouldn’t have happened. But it was timing leading to opportunity. Good timing, I guess.”

The sale of the building and adjacent lot were pending this week. Hughes won’t discuss the projects’ potential costs, but he said they could involve historical renovations and possibly city tax incentives to help restore the building’s original Italianate design.

Hughes wanted to go public with the project now because he wanted Legends’ staff to know what the future holds.

He said he plans to make renovations to the bar space—the future Genisa—the final piece of work partly because he has agreed to allow Legends to continue running until April, which is the anniversary of the bar’s founding.

“It’s their 37th year. Thirty-seven years is a long time. That’s really important that they can celebrate that,” Hughes said.

Hughes sees Genisa as a cosmopolitan hot spot that will fit in well with downtown’s recent renaissance in specialty bars and dining.

The bar will pair quality wines and upper-tier beer and cocktail selections with Italian-inspired appetizers.

A Craig High School graduate who grew up in the Fourth Ward, Hughes said he wants the place to be welcoming enough that his childhood friends would want to hang out there.

The bar’s name is significant. It’s the name of Hughes’ mother, the late Genisa Cucchiella Hughes.

Most who would remember Genisa Hughes would have known her as part of the local political cognoscenti and a frequent, verbose caller on talk-radio shows at the tail end of the last century.

And they would have known Genisa Hughes as “Jenny,” not Genisa.

Hughes is dedicating the space to his mother, who died in 2009, and his father, Jack Hughes, who died in 1999 after the couple had relocated to Las Vegas.

An outdoor lounge, part of year-round outdoor seating that will wrap around the riverfront and north sides of the building, will feature a cigar deck named after Jack.

The sign out front will read “Genisa” in Hughes’ mother’s own signature, Hughes said.

“This is something that I thought would be a great way to honor my parents,” he said. “And I want it to be something that all my friends from the Fourth Ward will be proud of. I wanted Janesville to see it as a really nice landmark that people will go to experience a great, fun, relaxing and unique experience.”

Hughes already owns three other bar properties in Janesville, including Bazinga Classic Pub & Grille; Barkley’s Burgers, Brews & Dawgs; and Game Day Sports Bar and Grill.

Hughes said he is working with the city’s planning and economic development departments on the new projects, and he has talked to city officials about potential tax incentives. He said there’s a gap in what he can afford in necessary work under historic renovation rules.

Downtown Janesville is overlaid with a tax-increment financing district, and some of those programs can work in tandem with state historic renovation grant and loan programs.

The city has begun to use TIF programs downtown to help spur ongoing revival and apartment development along the riverfront.

Economic Development Director Gale Price said he and Hughes have been negotiating possible tax incentives for the revamp at Legends and the empty lot next door.

Price said he couldn’t discuss specifics, but he indicated the project fits the bill for some type of city tax incentives.

“When you think about an addition to our downtown and the cosmopolitan nature of the concept, I think it’s really a great fit for our community and the downtown,” Price said.

“When we talk about the properties on Main Street and projects that could further articulate the improvements we’re seeing along the Rock River corridor, Greg’s plan would do that. It makes sense, and the city intends to do more of this (public-private partnerships) in downtown going forward.”


Crime
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Data: Number of Rock County kids arrested dropped, but racial disparities remained

JANESVILLE

Even though the number of kids arrested in Rock County fell precipitously over a decade, racial disparities for Black youth persisted, according to data shared Thursday.

In 2008, there were 5,264 youth arrests in Rock County. That number decreased almost every single year, reaching 1,780 in 2018, the last year listed for this data point in a presentation on racial disparities in the local youth justice system.

Over the decade, Black kids made up between 28.3% (in 2010) and 35.5% (in 2012) of youth arrests in the county, despite making up just 8.4% of the youth population in 2010 and 9.6% of it in 2018—when they made up 32.9% of youth arrests.

Kelly Mattingly, head of the Rock County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, shared the Sept. 30 presentation prepared by Kendra Schiffman, a data analyst with Rock County Human Services, in advance of a council meeting Thursday.

“That was one of the most useful and helpful PowerPoint presentations that I’ve seen,” Mattingly said Thursday.

The council, made up of local officials from the criminal justice system, has been working to address racial disparities, including in the juvenile justice system.

Like arrests, the data on youth in secure detention in Rock County has also dropped—going from 648 in 2008 to 217 in 2018, according to the presentation. Black youth were again disproportionately admitted to secure detention.

The presentation said it used relative rate data to examine disparities at every decision point in the youth justice system, starting from arrests and court referrals to charges being filed and case dispositions.

In 2017, the most recent year included in the data, Black kids had a poverty rate that was 2.8 times higher than that of white kids. The disparity in arrest rate was higher at 4.6 times more than white kids that year.

Black kids also had a lower rate of cases being diverted in 2017.

From 2009 until 2017, the arrest rate for Black kids when compared to their white counterparts in Rock County has remained higher than when comparing their poverty rates.

Looking forward, the presentation ended with reform examples for the various decision points: school discipline, arrest, secure detention, youth justice referral, charges filed and disposition.

The examples, beyond ongoing bias training, include:

  • Minimizing criminal justice interventions in schools, moving away from zero-tolerance policies and implementing school-based diversion programs that take into account mental health needs.
  • Train police officers and school officers on adolescent development, systemic racism and ethnic disparities; limit any police contact with kids (especially youth of color); and decriminalize low-level behaviors, such as truancy.
  • Using diversion, such as deferred prosecution agreements, and monitoring the race and ethnicity of those who are being offered those agreements, which can help keep substantial crimes off someone’s record.

The council also discussed potential race issues in the jury selection process and had agencies provide updates on steps they’re taking to reduce racial disparities in their respective fields.

The next council meeting is set for 3 p.m. Nov. 19.


Crime
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Rock County judges again suspend jury trials as coronavirus spreads

JANESVILLE

As Rock County sets records for COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and positive test rate, the county’s judges have decided to again put a pause on holding jury trials until Nov. 9 at the earliest.

Judges Daniel Dillon and John Wood told The Gazette earlier this week that they are looking at alternative sites, such as a large room at the Rock County Job Center, to eventually hold jury trials.

The judges announced in a news release shared late Wednesday that limited in-person court appearances for other matters can continue, although most hearings are being done via video.

Those who appear in person must wear masks and review health screening questions at the courthouse entrance, the announcement states.

An Oct. 1 state Supreme Court order allowed counties to withdraw their approved plans for reopening so those counties could make changes based on the state of the pandemic locally.

And in Rock County—much like other counties across the state—virus spread is not under control, and several local data points have recently reached record highs.

“We’re quite concerned about the changing landscape,” Wood said. “And we decided to kind of pump the brakes a little bit and re-examine where we were at, which was a good thing.”

So Wood said the judges have decided to pause holding jury trials for a few weeks.

“The criminal courts and the civil courts have been able to function very well without having in-person appearances,” Dillon said.

Dillon, the county’s chief judge, pointed to new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which said Oct. 5 that the coronavirus can spread more than 6 feet through the air by way of aerosols and not just airborne droplets.

Agency officials said spreading through the air is less common and typically occurs in poorly ventilated and enclosed spaces, The Associated Press reported.

Still, Dillon said county health officials were concerned and suggested reconfiguring the plan for jury trials.

A major concern lies in the jury selection process, which can bring dozens of Rock County residents into one space before the court ultimately has its final 12-person jury.

Rock County has a large courtroom it could use that is better for social distancing than other courtrooms, but the judges brought up how areas in that room are fixed to the ground, such as the jury box.

Space at the job center, however, allows for much more flexibility to better ensure physical distancing. The judges have been in contact with the sheriff’s office and information technology staff to work out how to have a jury trial in a remote location.

Wood said most recent cases that would have gone to trial have ended in plea agreements, which was often the case before the pandemic, too.

But granting timely trials, especially for defendants in custody at the Rock County Jail, is an important piece of the criminal justice system. The “speedy trial” statute allows for defendants in misdemeanor cases to have a trial within 60 days and 90 days for felony cases if requested.

WCLO radio reported Oct. 11 that a Beloit man’s 2019 shots-fired case was a priority for a speedy trial. Wood is quoted in the story as calling it his “No. 1 case in this county,” and the case is due for a status hearing Nov. 3.

Wood said, if needed, defendants can petition the state Supreme Court if their trials aren’t happening. The judge said he wasn’t aware of anyone who had made such a request.

Relevant to the Rock County judges’ thinking on pausing in-person matters was Gov. Tony Evers’ order limiting public gatherings, which itself has been blocked for now, a decision that came after The Gazette’s interview with Dillon and Wood.

Wood said health officials suggested that even if courts were exempt from the order, “that we perhaps attempt to follow the spirit of that order.”

“Unfortunately, we’re responding to a spike that really didn’t exist” at the end of August, Dillon said.