DOWNTOWN LAKE GENEVA FADE OUT
It didn’t start with the current administration of Lake Geneva’s city leadership simply because the current crop of newly elected leaders just took office last Tuesday. No, the movement of political and business efforts were redirected from the center of the City of Lake Geneva some time back when it was decided that the concentration of effort toward business development should shift from improving what’s already there (in the downtown area), to building in the open available countryside along Edwards Boulevard. From out where Wal-Mart, Walgreen’s and Aldi are currently open and operating, to where Edwards crosses Highway 50 and Target, Best Buy, and the future Hampton Inn.
That the downtown area is classically beautiful and the beating heart of the entire Geneva Lake region has not mattered one bit, except for tossing a bone or two (like the million bucks, or so, that the city put into the rebuilding of the theater). Pollard is building the huge Symphony Bay off Edwards. Aldi went in there, as did Ross Dress for Less, Starbuck’s, and now Tristan Crist Magic Show is also hoping to go in there. These are shifting focus from the downtown and toward the burgeoning development out along the single ugliest section of the city imaginable.
That’s right, those visitors who enter Lake Geneva from the East on Highway 50 get to set themselves up for what? It’s certainly not like entering the masterfully planned and constructed Main Street at Disneyland. Walgreen’s is an ugly eye-sore across from an eyesore gas station. Home Depot is closely adjacent looking like, well, Home Depot. Wal-Mart is a study in how to build an ugly parking lot with a fat ugly big box store just to the rear. That is the single greatest motivating factor that encourages anyone visiting that part of Lake Geneva to get the hell out of there as fast as possible. It is also a traffic nightmare at any hour. The traffic light at the intersection of Highway 50 and Edwards is by far the worst in town for safety and the time settings set up for it. In fact, the most beautiful thing ever built in that area (using the word very loosely) is the Highway-12-overpass and isn’t that saying something right there.
This kind of awful development does not happen by accident. It happens because of revenue expectations, and because it is in the new undeveloped area where developers can build and make the most money. Does it take enlightened far-sighted leadership to observe that as the downtown of Lake Geneva fades the entire potential of all of Geneva Lake begins to fade with it? That the attractant of people coming to the lake isn’t simply the pristine lake itself? It does take some intellect to consider history and also to look, see and then study what is already here. The people who build most business spaces (office and retail) are not often the people who inhabit the space and pay the taxes. Those newly constructed spaces are leased out. Who is going to lease the spaces these developer’s build? Tristan’s magic show is a great example of what can happen and is happening in Lake Geneva right now. Tristan is moving to where he thinks he can get more traffic and the rent might be less. Not only will that probably be true, but his moving, in a very small way, will help make that happen.
When the downtown of Lake Geneva begins to look like so many other blighted downtowns across America, then the outlying areas will dry up and wither too. But that takes far-thinking, and far-thinking does not seem to be too popular across the country at this time. It is time for city leadership to stop these hemorrhaging departures and the small business abandonment of the downtown area. Only rigid regulation of the comprehensive plan and thoughtful voting on conditional use permits will stop this eventual fade out to black of Lake Geneva itself.