THE COMPANY WE KEEP
There is a grand controversy going on around Geneva Lake and it cannot be ignored without peril. The decisions being made right this minute are decisions that are going to bring into action real change, no matter what kind of change is needed, wanted or intended by the citizens surrounding the lake. Huge “keystone” anchor properties and institutions are being considered for modification, demolition or for development. These properties have appeared before the citizenry, those among that body who read newspapers, and the changes coming to these properties signal changes in the very nature of the relationships everyone living and working around the lake will have on into the future.
The Yerkes Observatory, possibly the greatest anchor property and institution located along the lakeside property of Geneva Lake, is being closed. Supposed suggestions are being entertained toward that September closing date, although it is unlikely any suggestions (including expense money to continue the functioning of the observatory) are likely to be acted upon. The place will be sold for development, subject to whatever restrictions Williams Bay citizens can place upon it without being sued to death (think about Lake Geneva’s Hummel debacle). Hillmoor, the last large piece of land within the city limits of Lake Geneva, is up for development, and a multi-million-dollar lawsuit because of restrictions placed on the owners is already underway. The lawsuit is allegedly about the failure of the city to provide requested documents, but what’s the fifty-five million bucks all about if that’s all it is? The Riviera Pier is up for “re-purposing,” whatever that phrase is supposed to mean. In reality, the phrase is deliberately meaningless because that is what most developers intend. Most developers enjoy the ability to gain rezoning or plan changes. A long-range rifle gun range is up for consideration right near the downtown edge of Zenda in Town of Linn. The Geneva Inn, on the southern edge of BigFoot Beach, wants to develop its business right down to the water’s edge and start a trend there. Certain other development forces want to reroute South Lake Shore Drive so a private yacht basin can be carved out what is now Maytag lagoon.
These big issues are all up for grabs in the communities surrounding Geneva Lake, and they all have to do with people. What kind of people do the citizens, voters, workers, and visitors of the Geneva Lake environs want to associate with? Who is it that these citizens want to have around them on a regular basis. Does the idea of an upscale Carmel, California environment appeal to everyone here now, or does what’s been done to (or for, make up your own mind about that) the Wisconsin Dells seem more acceptable? Is quality more important than quantity, or can those two things be made to work together?
The new Chamber of Commerce, renamed “Visit Lake Geneva” is dead set on finding out. Ed Stivak has commissioned an outside group to come in and survey almost everyone of any importance making a difference in and around Lake Geneva. Ed, and Visit Lake Geneva, genuinely want to know what direction the economic-decision-making forces of the Geneva Lake communities should take on into the future. You may not get a call from Visit Lake Geneva, but even if you don’t Ed is vitally interested in your opinion. The direction the city of Lake Geneva is going, along with the other communities surrounding the lake, is something that’s going to be decided by people who are already serving in or appointed to current offices.
The plan commissions, utility departments, city councils, and town boards, along with their boards, are filled with people serving at a very critical turning point in Geneva Lake’s likely future development. And what about the grandly wealthy people quietly living around the lake? The Kocourek’s, Pritzker’s, Ryan’s, Driehaus’, Wrigley’s and more? Keefe is a giant property owner, as is Inland and a few others. Mr. Pollard is huge, as a successful developer. All these forces are coming together to make a monstrous communal decision that not one of those forces, or people, will admit is a communal decision at all. Things will develop as if by accident. Things will happen incrementally, here and there, at this time and that, but there is a drum beat that all will have to follow. That drumbeat is forcing a decision. The choice is either to keep Geneva Lake a pristine jewel to be enjoyed by those who want to live in, or visit, a classy ‘paradise’ of a place, continuing as an example for all of Wisconsin, or allow the rapacious developers to turn the area into a cheap ticket thrill ride where large segments of citizens from further south pass on through, without qualitative question or consumption.
Call Visit Lake Geneva and get your opinion known and be counted. The number is 262-248-1000. Better yet, pay a few bucks and join the outfit. They really are trying to do it right, and Ed is the man to lead them. Who do you want in your life and circulating around you? What company do you want to keep?
~ James Strauss