ICE CASTLE COMES IN FOR A BUMPY LANDING
The Ice Castle is coming back. It’s not official, however, although the mayor of Lake Geneva went ahead and, in typical Mirabeau Hummel style, signed the agreement to have them back for a three-year run, at four times the size while conveying city property to them for the effort was made verbally last week. There was no public hearing, as is required by law. The plan now goes straight to Finance, License and Registration for approval and whatever funding might be necessary. There has been no talk about the fact that putting the ice castle at Dunn Field and out of the main part of town might be great for the resorts but not so great for downtown businesses.
Jessie Stone, with the Ice Castle Company out of Utah, was not giving up on his dream of building a bigger and better ice castle right here in Lake Geneva. Jessie, the manager of the project, loves the community, the beauty, and the Geneva Lake area offers and believes the community’s energy makes this a great event location. He is not in a position, however, to be able to give Lake Geneva leadership the numbers of visitors the event takes in. There’s a reason that last year’s Lake Geneva Ice Castle was the most successful in the nation, despite being the smallest of all six ice castle locations.
Wednesday morning, August 14th, Jessie with the assistance of the BID’s Bridget Leech, presented and discussed with city officials/staff the application for a permit to make Dunn Field the home of the castle, and then it was presented to a private group of city leadership members. Jessie would have liked a ten-year permit that semi-official group, by they instead offered a three-year permit to use the northeast corner of Dunn Field on the east side of the White River. The Tourism Commission met later that same day and Jessie and Bridget again presented the application for a tourism grant to help fund the big endeavor of creating a much larger and more interactive structure to share the success experienced by the entirety of the Geneva Lake area, as well as the Ice Castle Company of last year’s ice castle results.
They estimated that greater success should be expected at this year’s castle. Jessie shared the results of the surveys filled out by the ice castle customers. 83% of the guests reported eating at local restaurants with an average of thirty-eight dollars a plate totaling roughly 2.9 million dollars. 16% of the ice castle guests stayed in local hotels for at least one night at approximately $150 a night, totaling about 3.2 million. According to these numbers, the local impact was supposed to be 6 million dollars. The tourism board appears to be almost only all about ‘heads in beds’ and with these numbers how could they not approve a grant?
The Tourism Grant was approved in the amount of $50,000.00 a year for three years and is designated to cover the prep of the land including asphalt where it is needed, electrical feeds, bridge replacement and repairs along the white river which are currently unsafe, as well as water access, and city staff. There was no public hearing on the allowance or conveyance of public taxpayer-owned property to put on this event. There was no city council hearing. No audited numbers were presented. No receipts from the previous year were presented. Informal approvals, such as those being extended in this case, are fraught with danger, and that’s across the nation, as states, counties and even small municipalities are getting sued because of promises being extended that are not followed through with formal approvals or acceptably legal contracts.
Why was the proper procedure ignored in this case? Nobody seems to know and only the GSR seems to care.