The situation wherein there are excessive empty stores in the downtown area has been and continues to be, a cyclic problem for almost everyone, from small businesses to service providers in the City of Lake Geneva. This situation has happened several times before, but this time it may be different. The situation may be much more long lasting, the effects more permanent.
What is responsible for this unaccountably high store vacancy situation? There are several areas that have to be looked at.
First: there are the businesses themselves: those would be the businesses that are not sufficiently profitable (in the short tourist season) to sustain paying the rent, and other fixed costs, during the winter months. These businesses tend to go out of business;
Second: are the business property owners renting spaces out. Landlords are increasing rents to maximize profits and increase those rents when some of their renters don’t pay and leave the area. This act eventually causes more businesses to fail, and that creates a domino effect, causing more businesses to fail;
Third: The tax assessors. Tax assessors, with excessively high assessments, in property tax and personal property tax, benefit city tax revenue funds and city real estate investments, but have also caused landlords to raise rents, and businesses to raise prices, thus contributing to business failures.
The fourth underlying cause that appears to be an unspoken or hidden effort to drive out the “riffraff” businesses and transition the downtown into a more exclusive resort area for the wealthy, as it once was in its early history.
But, regardless of the cause, any city council, action without properly analyzing and identifying the root causes, will only add fuel to the “fire” of the problem. Permitting apartments above the downtown stores, (by exempting them from the parking requirements) would likely only increase revenues for the owners (landlords), and increase the assessed values which might be adding to the problem mentioned in probable causes two and three, listed above. Few can see into the future, but by watching the coming renovation of The Riviera, residents will have a clear window into the city’s envisioned future as currently planned. The Lake Geneva area is a real gem but, like Yerkes Observatory, is also viewed as a cash cow to be milked regularly for profit. Will the City of Lake Geneva go the way of the Yerkes Observatory? Will it become abandoned, and instead of putting on entertaining zombie runs for the citizens, become home for the real creatures?